By Carlyn Hudson | Comedy
A young woman has a sleepover with an heiress of a waffle empire.

Kerry is having a sleepover one night with her best friend Katie. There is nothing usual about this — except that both are grown women, and Katie is an heiress to a fortune built on waffles. They indulge in all the typical sleepover activities — ice cream, girl talk — until it begins to emerge for time for Kerry to leave.

As it turns out, Kerry has been hired as part of a Uber-type service for friendship. Katie desperately wants Kerry to stay, but Kerry calls for her boyfriend to pick her up. Undaunted, Katie pays for more time and Kerry decides to stay, though not with much enthusiasm. Unbeknownst to her, Katie has other plans in mind for her best friend…

This comedy-horror short — directed by Carlyn Hudson and written by co-stars Kerry Barker and Katie Marovitch — deftly blends sharp, awkward cringe comedy with the taut suspense and dread of the horror genre, all while exploring the complicated knot of need and vulnerability that can fuel intense friendship, as well as the inequalities that can get in the way of genuine reciprocity.

Juggling genres and tones can be a tricky balancing act, but the short admirably modulates between its two poles with aplomb. Like many genres that emphasize pacing and plot, the storytelling is undergirded by a tight, fast-moving and surprisingly complex sense of structure, parsing out zig-zagging information about character, background and world for maximum punch and freshness. It’s constantly engaging viewers with small but impactful reveals, an approach that consistently entertains and surprises, but also emphasizes a sense of unease.

The madcap story is matched by a sense of craft that has considerable panache and a glossy, foreboding darkness, rendering a world that feels real enough to suggest everyday life but removed enough to have an “Uber for friends” service. But the real high-wire act belongs to the performances, which can navigate both the absurdist situations of the plot and the thorny emotional reality of friendship with a deeply entitled person.

Perhaps it’s because the pair of co-stairs are also co-writers of the screenplay, but both performers hit a difficult, mixing an almost surreal social awkwardness with a breeziness and rhythm associated with screwball comedy. Yet the emotions and dialogue are never played for broadness, staying just on the razor’s edge of relatability. Katie’s neediness for friendship and her ferocious sense of entitlement is played with an openness that’s cringeworthy in its familiarity. But the extreme degree of her neediness and entitlement push the short into true horror territory, complete with a breakneck final sequence that fulfills the genre’s demand for a heartstopping ending.

Stories of female friendship in film and literature have long examined the codependency, hierarchies and primal fascination that can exist between girls and woman, making these relationships just as complex and rich as romantic ones. But what makes the genre-bending of “Waffle” so hypnotic and effective is how it takes the need and vulnerabilities at the heart of these stories and parlays them to the furthest logical conclusion. The result is a wildly entertaining ride that horrifies not just because of the gaping maw of loneliness and toxic entitlement it reveals, but because it’s so recognizable to our own emotional lives.

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