Masked (2019) Short Film Review


by Jeremy Herbert

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Masked should come with a trigger warning and I don’t say that lightly. Horror can horrify. It’s right there in the name. But this short ends with an all-too-imitable act of self-mutilation that soured my stomach as a viewer who’s never grappled with those tendencies before.

No one could mistake the work of animator Christoph Younes for Wallace & Grommit. His style is looser, dirtier. Ashen faces hang heavy on swollen heads. Everything moves in the stutter-step rhythm of silent films and nightmares. And when the protagonist is a bullied teenage girl, that style is only too appropriate.

Puberty makes waxen mutants of us all, and so too is The Girl (Maria Finlay). She sulks home, freshly harassed by pretty girls over her first period. She stares at a reflection she’d give anything to change. But the voice in her head won’t let her. Behind her bleary eyes, another girl begs, pleads and screams that she’s okay. She doesn’t need to change anything. She already knows who she is on the inside. Already likes who she is on the inside.

The one-way argument between them drives Masked, a war for self-esteem between her truest self and what she distorts in the mirror. And then an inner demon literally born of her insecurities shows up and fights her truest self. It develops like an accelerated baby, then doesn’t. Fully grown arms. More of a vestigial tail than legs. Cue-ball eyes and a mouth full of nubby teeth. The transformation is a dazzlingly unsettling piece of animation. But then the monster does as monsters do and the inner voice isn’t so loud anymore. The distorted girl in the mirror has a pair of scissors and a choice.

Christoph Younes’s Masked is an excellent showcase of the art form. Expression. Emotion. It’s as evocative as the big-budget stuff, if not more so, and that’s just the problem. Claymation is rarely this good, but also rarely this disturbing.