Drop in, turn on, and creep out with writer-director-star Ashley Nicole’s spooky little animated short Strange Land. Back in 1980, in the tiny little town of Pinewood, odd things began to occur. Young people start disappearing and then reappear, looking bloody and drugged. One even goes crazy. All talk about being taken by a mysterious entity that wants to hurt people. Soon the media catches on, and reporters from around the country descend upon the town. It isn’t long before the once-quiet village becomes famous under its new nickname: Strange Land.
Back in the distant past, when I was a kid in the 70s, Zoom was a TV show from Boston on PBS where little kids wore striped shirts and danced around. The show featured short animated movies made from kid’s drawings. Seeing the raw artwork run amok was a blast. Strange Land has precisely the same handmade charm as those Zoom shorts. Nicole hand-drew all of the images as well as performed writing, directing, and voice acting duties.
“Young people start disappearing and then reappear, looking bloody and drugged.”
The still images are manipulated with angles, close-ups, and really cool red glowing effects, all of which simulate motion. It works. The cartoony style of the illustrations shifts smoothly from cute to terrifying once the death nerve twitching begins. There is one section where a bloody naked boy runs through the woods, which is very potent. This horror short is a compelling counterargument for anyone who would argue that non-moving images don’t count as animation.
Nicole’s screenplay pulls off a lot of world-building in just under four minutes. The filmmaker also is able to establish Lovecraft-level menace by flooring the vague pedal. As the horror in the woods has not been fully defined, it hooks your interest to gaze further. All of this is powered by the fantastic score by Lukas Losking. His compositions drip with ghastly allure. It is a shame Nicole felt the need to close with a Doors song, as sticking with Losking’s music would have allowed an incredible crescendo at the climax. Unfortunately, the Doors song cuts off that opportunity and is the weakest part of what is an intriguing short.
Overall, Ashley Nicole is a talent to keep track of, as Strange Land has a lot of dark sparkle. All she needs to do is leave the Goldie Oldies out of the mix next time.
"…shifts smoothly from cute to terrifying once the death nerve twitching begins."