Fantasia International Film Festival - As age creeps upon all of us, we find out that, unlike in our youth, that we are always susceptible to the various ailments that can sap our strength, cripple us, and make us more vulnerable than ever. With each affliction that we are exposed to, there is this innate fear that we will never be the same person that we were in our younger years, and, because of that, we may not be accepted in our ever-aging state.
Atrophy, a short film written and directed by Nick Hartanto and Sam Roden and is currently playing at the 2021 Fantasia Fest, perfectly exemplifies this feeling and the horror that goes along with it.
Mrs. Sugita (Irene Tsu), crippled by a stroke, painfully struggles to make herself whole again with help from her Physical Therapist (Liza Fernandez). Mr. Sugita (Bert Matias), a retired Indonesia doctor, becomes frustrated and angry over his wife’s condition and the endless attention paid to her in order to make her well again. As Mr. Sugita gets toilet paper from the garage, he comes across a karaoke machine hidden behind the bathroom tissue stacks. He brings the machine into one of the rooms of the house.
As Mrs. Sugita continues to struggle with her condition, Mr. Sugita turns on the karaoke machine and sees a video of “Jenang Gulo”, an Indonesian song sung by a young and beautiful Indah Andarini. The karaoke machine becomes an obsession as it possesses Mr. Sugita. His care of his wife turns to abuse and neglect as the song emanates from the karaoke and permeates throughout the house, becoming Mr. Sugita’s siren call. Mrs. Sugita, struggling with the aftermath of her stroke and the near drowning at the hands of her husband, tries to regain her husband’s love and attempts to regain her identity.
The duo of Nick Hartanto and Sam Roden do an excellent job scribing and directing this single location short film. The film creates a dark and depressing atmosphere that mirrors the sad and tragic circumstances the plague the elderly couple. The dynamic of Mr. Sugita longing for the Indonesia past of his youth and Mrs. Sugita present mortality brings about an excellent conflict with the karaoke machine becoming the wedge between the couple.
Bert Matias is wonderful as the angry, jealous turned grief-stricken Mr. Sugita but Irene Tsu steals this film and is outstanding as Mrs. Sugita in a terrific performance. With every physical movement she makes, various waves of empathy and winces flourish within the viewer as she struggles with various tasks such as walking, eating, and communicating. The horror of losing who she is and the person she loves is well conveyed in every scene she is in.
While this film is a scant 15 minutes, there is a lot to chew on in each frame. If you enjoy horror where a debilitating illness tends to change a family dynamic, then dive into this short excursion.
Watch Atrophy and access others at the Fantasia International Film Festival here.
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