It happens to me every damn day. I open my email, and there’s an offer that’s clearly “too good to be true.” Russell Goldman’s short film, Return to Sender, wonders what if the offer is true yet still a scam?
Allison Tolman plays Julia, a woman who is finding some stability in life after her recent recovery from alcoholism. She moved into a new home and attends AA meetings over Zoom. To spice her house up a bit, Julia orders some tropical wallpaper from an online shopping mega site, but when her package arrives, she finds a well-constructed corkscrew in a separate box. When Julia goes online, there’s no record that she ordered or paid for the item. The sight of the corkscrew slightly triggers her, but strong of will, she throws it away.
The next day, Julia finds more packages she didn’t order delivered on her front porch. The items include a security camera, a stack of dog calendars, a ski mask, and nasal medicine. When she goes online, there’s again no record that Julia ordered these boxes, but there is a product review for each item under her name. Before Julia’s severe OCD kicks in, her best friend, Tat (Emma Pasarow), informs her that she’s been a victim of the scam practice of “brushing” — a scam that affects millions around the world (look it up or better yet, watch this short film).
“…she’s been a victim of the scam practice of ‘brushing’…”
There is a simplicity to Return to Sender that I love. The short film is essentially Allison Tolman isolated in her home, giving us this subtle and brilliant character arc for Julia. The scam perpetrated against her is relatively harmless but plays into her recent recovery from alcoholism along with that feeling of paranoia that accompanies seeming coincidental purchases. The build-up of her character at the end is fantastic and shocking.
Short films in the thriller, horror, and comedy genres tend to have one thing in common. They all have a setup we can relate to, and then the filmmakers push their premise to its extreme destination. Then, at the end, they instantly release the tension with a punch line, whether funny, haunting, or tragic.
Return to Sender has the most basic premise yet plays right into our mistrust of life and then smacks you upside the head in the end.
"…plays right into our mistrust of life and then smacks you upside the head..."