Writer/director Naveen Sagar’s stellar short Where’s Toby? peeks into the darkness of hidden alcoholism and gets it right. Maya (Logan Floyd) shows up on a sweltering morning to work alone at a security post. Her desk is covered in sticky notes, reminders about her job duties, and photos of her little boy, Toby. As she starts pouring liquor into her coffee, she receives a call from Toby’s school but is unable to answer it due to a broken screen.
After a few more drinks into the workday, Maya is intruded upon by Gina (Cece Rogina), who is from child services. She received a call from Maya’s doctor about her recent diagnosis of Korsakoff Syndrome. Korsakoff Syndrome is a memory disorder commonly associated with chronic alcohol abuse and manifests itself via leg tremors and confusion. Gina is there to inspect the premises and make sure Maya is together enough to look after Toby. The CPS employee examines the sticky notes and finds the liquored-up coffee. Gina starts the paperwork to remove Toby from Maya’s care. At this point, the film’s atmosphere goes a deep shade of black. Then things get very ugly.
“Gina starts the paperwork to remove Toby from Maya’s care.”
The great photographer Weegee once had his artistic street crime photos described as “Thriller Realism.” This is the best genre classification I can think of for Where’s Toby?. It has the realism down, with amazing portrayals of working-class tedium as well as the quiet pulse of self-destruction closet drinkers have. But right when it could have steered straight down weepy street, the tone switches to deep thriller territory, landing near the border of flat-out horror. This change is very clever as it acts like the surprise toy in the cereal box, even if it is evil. Sagar’s script work is impeccable, with most of the storytelling done through visuals of small details and routine instead of expository dialogue. It makes what dialogue that is there all the sweeter, especially when things get gritty and intense.
Non-Binary actor Floyd brings the house down with their debut performance as Maya. They bring the sympathy needed to make this kind of broken character work. The character’s struggles to keep everything together are brought to the forefront through the actor’s portrayal. That hook Floyd uses to lure the audience stays planted throughout their transformation of Maya, all without skipping a beat. At no time did I catch a false note or hint of hyperbole in Floyd’s acting. They pulled off a supreme feat of acting.
Shorts are the calling cards for creators and performers to show what they can do. Sagar is obviously more than ready for a feature, and I expect we’ll see a lot more from Floyd in the future. Where’s Toby? is a short with a wide variety of flavors that could inspire any number of projects in any number of genres. Like a big fat hit of the hallucinogenic DMT, the film is a wildly intense experience condensed into just 15 minutes. Strap in as you’re in for a hell of a ride.
"…a wildly intense experience..."