Community Service

By Grayson Tyler Johnson | Horror
A drunk man is arrested and gets community service. He meets a strange woman...

Dan went to a party and got wasted, and then had a run-in with the law. Charged with public intoxication, he must now do community service to get it taken off his record and chooses to deliver meals to home-bound people for a few weeks.

The last person on his service route in Brooklyn is a woman named Shecky. Shecky is off-putting: loud, nosy, abrasive and plain old weird. She lives in a home full of figurines and stuffed animals; she has no filter in what she talks about. And she insists Dan stay with her until she falls asleep, promising even to pay him extra money. As the weeks wear on, Shecky becomes increasingly annoying and demanding. But just when Dan reaches the end of his service, she becomes something else altogether.

Written and directed by Grayson Tyler Johnson, this odd and riveting psychological horror short is a journey into the unexpected eccentricity that we find in the course of everyday life, whether it's the odd neighbor or the strange objects in the junk store. With deliberate pacing and confident writing, it chronicles the collision of one man with a very odd woman, making for an unexpected excursion into a heart of darkness.

The sly, witty storytelling finds casual humor in the neglect, flippancy and indifference of people, starting from the lawyer assigning Dan his community service. The visuals seem naturalistic, even workmanlike -- except for a fixation on slightly surreal details, whether it's an odd gargoyle on a railing or the slightly queasy close-ups on the industrial assembly-line spaghetti being made.

This visual attention to the oddball darkens into a more sinister aspect as the relationship between Shecky and Dan progresses. At first, Dan finds Shecky off-putting, but each encounter reveals Shecky's growing neediness and fixation on Dan, which he attempts to dodge. Actor Dan O'Brian is a sympathetic, relatable presence, but as Shecky, actor Angela Muto commands the screen in a no-holds-barred performance that is funny, compelling and menacing all at once. Muto is not afraid to be abrasive, screechy or even repulsive, and it could be easy for the audience and Dan to write her off as an annoying kook, neglected by society and her family. But as Dan discovers, Shecky isn't powerless -- not in the least.

Though its look and feel are deceptively casual in its evocation of everyday urban life, "Community Service" in many ways shares much in common thematically with a filmmaker like David Lynch. Like Lynch, the film cleverly explores the idea of a dark pocket of oddness tucked away in the fabric of normality, where entering that weirdly quiet home in the neighborhood reveals a cesspool of perversions and twisted obsessions that you've been living beside for years. Though there are no monsters or gore (unless you count spaghetti) in the film, viewers could file it under horror, if only for the sheer terror it evokes at its wry, hapless ending and the unforgettable evocation of human neediness turned monstrous and insatiable.

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