By Theo Rhys | Horror
A taxidermist goes on the dark web to find someone to stuff. But a romantic spark happens.

Araminta is jaded and depressed, with only her hobby as a taxidermist to give her life pleasure and meaning. She has preserved all kinds of animals, but she dreams of adding a human being to her menagerie.

She goes on the dark web to find someone willing to be stuffed but discovers only trolls and weirdos. Just as she thinks she’ll never find the right person, she encounters Bernie, who is afraid of growing old and agrees to be her volunteer. But as Bernie helps her ultimate taxidermist dreams come true, he also becomes the man of her dreams — one that will challenge her with a choice between her heart’s desires and her aspirations as a taxidermist.

Written and directed by Theo Rhys with a script co-written with Joss Holden-Rea, this bold, eccentric short is packed with creative juxtapositions. There’s the mashing together of genres, with horror, comedy and musical commingling to fascinating effect. And then there’s the unabashed love story, set amidst a dark, gritty world. The result is not a chaotic pell-mell of a film, but a genuinely compelling and original story that engages the heart, pleases the ear and captivates the eye.

Beginning right away with a plaintive aria of longing by Araminta, the short hits the ground with its modus operandi of exuberant, mordant artistry. The short has antecedents in musicals like Sweeney Todd and Little Shop of Horrors, set in playful yet sinister worlds populated with equally dark characters. And like those musicals, the songs here have an emotional range that reflects the interior lives of those singing and takes us directly into their innermost fears and longings.

That opening develops as Araminta and Bernie meet, in a dingy, dark house that adds to the decaying Gothic look and feel of the production design. The pair are awkward, but they also discover that they have found someone who completely understands their strangest desires and longings. Their rhapsody of a duet captures the magic of meeting a soulmate — someone who understands the innermost spirit of their beloved, from their dreams and nightmares.

Actors Alice Fitzhugh and Anthony Young have voices that blend beautifully in song, but also shy, sweet chemistry that handles both the romantic and comic demands of the storytelling. As the pair confront the question of whether or not they will go ahead with their arrangement, Araminta must also confront the contradiction of getting what you want, just as you discover just what you need.

A big crowd-pleaser and award winner at SXSW, Stuffed is the rare short that blends memorable, unique aesthetics, elegantly accomplished craftsmanship and engaging storytelling that tugs at the heart even when it’s making you squirm in your seat. It has tremendous creative bravura, as well as genuine emotional resonance in its journey of finding love when you least expect it. Which makes the ending richly ironic and affecting — and all the more admirable to its commitment to the film’s gloriously sinister vision.

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