SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Directed by Theo Rhys and written by Rhys and Joss Holden-Rea, Stuffed is approximately 20 minutes long and follows Araminta (Alison Fitzjohn) as she decides to actualize her dream. See, the middle-aged taxidermist has a strong desire to stuff none other than a human. She sends a message out and soon hears back from Bernie (Anthony Young), a man roughly her age, who is not afraid of death but is scared of aging more.
Soon enough, Bernie is at Araminta’s place, and the two get to know each other for two nights before the big day comes. However, an unexpected snag in their plan threatens to derail both their dreams. See, Araminta and Bernie are falling for each other, having never met anyone else who understands them as the other does here. Does Bernie decide that growing old next to Araminta isn’t a terrible fate? Will Araminta push aside her old dream for a new one that involves this man in her life?
This short, intense musical should not be confused with the excellent documentary of the same name, which is also about taxidermy. Rhys and Holden-Rea’s screenplay plays around with some interesting themes, most notably aging and the lifetime pursuit of one’s dreams. On the former, Fitzjohn and Young might not be the kind of people who immediately spring to mind when one thinks about leading roles for a pseudo-romance story. But having these middle-aged, average-looking people front and center sells the ideas the filmmakers have instantly. Is one’s pursuit of fulfillment the element that leads to an unfilled life looking back? Or is it never allowing oneself to see those around them honestly as they are too afraid to share that drive for fear of being mocked?
“…the middle-aged taxidermist has a strong desire to stuff none other than a human.”
If it sounds like Stuffed has a lot on its mind, well, that is because it does. Regarding those themes, the film works well, and the finale only serves to reinforce its message in a haunting way. Helping things along are Alison Ftitzjohn and Anthony Young, who are both spirited singers and play off each other nicely. The production and set design of Araminta’s house are also quite stellar, at once inviting and morbid.
What works less well is the editing and choreography of the near-constant sung dialogue (think Umbrellas Of Cherbourg). While some shots are very striking, a lot of the time, the cinematography feels constrained and held back by the four walls of the single-set house. The camerawork never matches the energy of the acting nor the songs. This disparity makes it seem like the director was unsure what style to go with, so he tried several things at once.
Still, that is not enough to dismiss all that Stuffed does offer. While it never entirely gels and some cuts between shots are confusing, the plot is original and engaging, the songs are catchy, and the two actors are excellent. Most importantly, the filmmakers aim to explore big ideas and themes and do so successfully in right around 20-minutes.
Stuffed screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
"…the production and set design [are]...at once inviting and morbid."