Runtime: 11 minutes
Director: Bára Anna Stejskalová
By Caelyn O’Reilly
“Love is Just a Death Away” is a beauteous little film about finding love in unlikely places.
It’s also about corpse-puppeteering brain parasites.
Stop-motion animation seems to always have a fascination with the macabre, the misunderstood, and societal outcasts. From Burton-produced features like “The Nightmare Before Christmas”(1993) and “Frankenweenie”(2012) to the entire filmography of Laika, as well as the upcoming “Wendell & Wild” (2022.) Perhaps there’s something about animating with physical, perishable materials that gets one thinking about life’s impermanence. Or maybe you just have to be a real weirdo to have the patience to work in this medium. Regardless, this short fits firmly in this niche.
Directed by Prague-based filmmaker Bára Anna Stejskalová, the film follows a surprisingly cute little worm-creature wandering around a landfill by controlling a dog corpse in a set-up akin to a gory version of “Ratatouille”. The worm struggles to find love through its outwardly grotesque method of interacting with the world, but ultimately finds kinship. The story shows life as an eternal state of decay, a cycle of deteriorating and giving way to something new, finding beauty and joy in that.
Well… attempting to find beauty and joy in it anyway. Sometimes you just explode a rat.
The production studio Divize makes the garbage-filled setting gorgeous, particularly through the constant sunsets that bathe the environment in rich orange and purple hues. The animation and sound design take what could have felt like edgy-for-its-own-sake grossness in other hands and makes it deeply appealing. Even an eyeball dangling from its socket is slid back in with a strangely satisfying ploop, like a ping pong ball being shot out of a tube.
Speaking of satisfying sounds, the score by Miroslav Chaloupka and Daniel Patras is wonderful, the intensely dramatic organs over the approach of the garbage-mulching combine harvester is a particular highlight. Though one bit of music that’s a tad more jarring is the song played over the credits, “Love is a Death Away” by British/Czech indie rock band Whitefeathers. Now I highly recommend this song and the album of the same name, (https://whitefeathers.bandcamp.com/releases) but cutting directly from the film’s sweet, quiet outro into the chorus of this rock jam is like someone dumping a pixie stick in your calming herbal tea.
Overall, this short is a delightfully heartwarming morbid treat. I am so excited to see where the creators go from here, because these ten-minutes alone show them as potential equals to the Laikas and Aardmans of the world.