To overcome his creative block and pull off an impossible deadline, fledgling comic artist Neil must enter the world of his leading character: the mysterious Mistress Of The Forest.
Short films are difficult to pull off for a very obvious reason: one has to tell a fleshed-out story, make the characters relatable, evoke emotions – all within a short amount of time. Perhaps Nicholas Hiatt – who helmed, wrote and produced the 8-minute-long The Mistress of the Forest – had something wise to say about the creative process; I am hard-pressed to figure out what it is. Aside from a moderately witty punchline, there’s not much going on here.
Neil (Hiatt) is a young, down-on-his-luck self-described “sequential artist” (read: he draws comics). He has a vision of a magical female that lurks in the woods, one that kind of resembles the Warrior Princess Xena, albeit with Eleanor Stankiewicz instead of Lucy Lawless donning the rugged leather boots. He can’t come up with a name for her – and then gets snapped back to the harsh reality, where comic editor Karen (Linden Wilkinson) relentlessly keeps rejecting his dinosaur sketches… until she stumbles upon his Mistress drawing. “This is the market right now,” Karen exclaims. “Fantasy, adventure, strong, sexy female characters!” She gives him one night to come up with a pitch.
“…fledgling comic artist Neil must enter the world of his leading character: the mysterious Mistress Of The Forest.”
He spends the night struggling to produce anything inventive but keeps drawing dinosaurs. The few sleepless hours send him into a hallucinatory frenzy, wherein Neil sees himself transported back to the fairy-tale Forest, conversing with Its Mistress. She goes by many names, including my favorite – “the falling leaf that never lands” – but Neil “will know her as Myra.” Just when Myra is about to crush the lanky nerd with her magical bamboo stick, he disarmingly asks her for her wisdom: “teach me the ways of the forest.” She tells him to listen for the forest’s voice – but Hogart the Bear Man (Troy Honeysett) pops up, interrupting their “brainstorming session”. After challenging Mistress Myra to a fight, Hogart aims his wrath at Neil, but as he slashes his throat, Neil awakens. “Listen to the forest” reverberates through his mind and – well, I’ll let you discover the mildly amusing ending.
The short film weirdly functions as an allegory of itself – a half-baked idea, in dire need of being fleshed out. The ending almost compensates for the low production values – creaky editing, uninspired cinematography, amateur acting – with a strong emphasis on “almost.” Perhaps before producing his next feature, Nicholas Hiatt can spend some more time brainstorming with the Mistress.
Mistress of the Forest (2018). Written, produced and directed by Nicholas Hiatt. Starring Nicholas Hiatt, Eleanor Stankiewicz, Troy Honeysett and Linden Wilkinson.
4 out of 10