Come on. Tickle me.
A self-proclaimed “socially responsible Blaxpoitation” horror short from director Matt Wisniewski and co-writer Fred Polone, Pappy’s World arrives as though a music video for Buffalo-based art-rock project Smokin’ Black Tar with an opening guitar-led track against the silent movements of a young girl (Jaz Frazier) around Christmastime. While she eyeballs a stack of presents and wonders how to get the top-most package down without waking her grandfather (Polone in lo-fi elderly make-up), the camera highlights her deliberate, silent-era over-exaggerations to tell this tale with expressive gestures. It’s all very fantastically surreal with close-ups and process shots leading us forward until she rips the wrapping off her gift. Beneath the paper lies a DIY maquette resembling her gramps—a devilishly possessed creation ready to inexplicably take what’s his.
Here’s where the music is pushed to the background so the film can takeover via a creepy, sexually charged conversation between the doll and its new owner. Grandpa awakens with a start and a disquieting sense of knowing terror where shock should reside. It’s as though he’s been anticipating this moment long enough to hope it might never have come. Pappy works his voodoo to infiltrate both, putting the young girl in a trance while the old man is hit with nightmarish flashbacks of the war. Suddenly we realize the similarities in appearance between the latter and this toy may not simply be for humor’s sake. What was weirdly comical takes a dramatic left turn into psychological thriller territory with Grandpa falling victim to his baser, PTSD-fueled desires.
The third act of this nine-minute short therefore goes off-the-wall into metaphor with papier-mâché sets creating a dreamscape of violent revulsion and carnal pleasures. The division between reality and fantasy blurs until this alter ego of an inanimate object gains full control over the situation to the point where its destruction might only end up happening too late. Wisniewski and Polone wade through cultural and genre tropes to deliver this unique vision of sadism dripping with pulpy berry pie at the edge of a knife. Its handmade construction shows the care put in (regardless of obvious budgetary constraints) while also lending it an incongruous sense of taboo-infused levity. But the whole never quite succumbs to the urge of letting its intentional embellishment subvert the darkly severe message beneath.