Review: Utukku

Vielda the main character for the short film Utukku. (Courtesy of Linis Centre of formation)

Acadian filmmaker Mathieu Laprise’s horror comedy web series Utukku features playground bullying that escalates to the supernatural.

It is devious, silly and satisfyingly over-the-top — a celebration of the urge to enact disproportionate revenge. It both parodies and validates school kid intensity, shifting from petty to poignant to gleeful.

Rather than a horror-comedy, it feels like a self-glorifying revenge fantasy. It does this in a mere 15 aesthetic minutes, segmented into three five-minute chapters called “The Doll”, “The Exorcism” and “The Amulet”.

The audience is introduced to our heroine, Vielda, as she sniffles and cries into a pitch black space devoid of sound.

The scene is an intimate closeup on her face that is almost uncomfortable. It is sad, striking, and complex. The nature of her tears shifting through shock, pain, memory and composure for ten long seconds. When her phone’s ringtone ricochets across the darkness and breaks her reverie, we hear her voice for the first time.

As much as the scene is emblematic of anti-bullying skits that course through middle schools, the audience bonds with her immediately – her frailty, her intensity and her naivety.

It is quite a feat to rehumanize a trope with one sentence of dialogue.

The scene shifts into a jarring flashback: a swarm of snickering girls, led by ringleader Nadine, are shoving Vielda into a locker. The lights of the school shut off as Vielda cries for help.

All we need to understand is that being shoved into a locker is worthy of seeking a demon to curse your bully.

The film plays with visuals very convincingly — the undertones of revenge, pain and power are filled in by the audience rather than laid out explicitly. The tropes help with this. It is strategic that Nadine looks like a textbook bully, that every feature of her face is angled in malice. It is strategic how this complements the victimized Vielda, who is doe-eyed, awkward, sassy and a budding goth girl.

The stereotypes are so familiar and comforting, they enable the film to succeed without exploring character. And then, their boundaries are deliciously pushed as Vielda visits a shaman to acquire a demon.

“Having enemies has nothing to do with age,” she says to the wary shaman.

She is offered a demon trapped in doll form.

It is a comedically creepy doll – waxy, humanoid, with scraggly black hair, a body made of voodoo cords and a green amulet. It comes alive in a flash of red eyes and a growling, snarling soundtrack.

Vielda hisses commands into the doll’s ear at school, eyeing Nadine. She smiles as she sees her wishes come true. Nadine spirals into self-humiliating acts.

The way the film tackles the supernatural is also something I appreciated. The supernatural is not portrayed as dramatic or even strange. It is a casual. The demon is a classic demon – a red-eyed rage with a passion for telekinetic chokeholds.

The demon is a part of life, just like being shoved into a locker. It makes the film feel like a daydream — something that doesn’t have to be realistic or even coherent. It just has to feel satisfying.

Utukku is addictive and witty. It’s predictable but entertaining, exaggerated but relatable.
The film toys with non-linear timelines to deliver it all in 15 minutes. Rather than a film, it is more intuitive to view it as a painting. It’s clean and compact. There is not a second wasted. It is consistently lush. The characters are purposefully shallow so they can fully embody self-indulgence and its comedies. I love this brevity.

The film is a concise way to playfully reconnect with your vengeful side.