In the short film Stucco, written and directed by Janina Gavankar and Russo Schelling, an agoraphobic woman moves into a new house after being stalked by her ex. She has video conference counseling sessions and guided meditation, but when she comes down with a cold and needs to leave the house to get medicine, she can’t bring herself to do it. Not even after she punctures a hole in a wall while trying to decorate her new home and fears that she has discovered a hidden room...
...Stucco wastes no time putting the viewer in the action: we open on a stainless-steel kitchen that is both in the process of being unpacked and littered with takeout containers. The blinds are all the way drawn despite it being midday, and our protagonist (Gavankar) listens to a voicemail from an ex-lover before turning it off suddenly. She then walks through her new home—we can tell it’s new because the walls’ paint is edged in, but not fully coated—and she measures where to hang a painting. When she drives in a nail, a quarter-sized hole opens up in the wall.
Our protagonist has everything delivered to her. She brings packages inside several times, taking deep breaths to summon the courage, and our inclinations are confirmed when she tells her therapist in a video counseling session that she’s coming down with a cold. “Let’s use that,” the therapist says, and encourages her to run out to the drugstore for medicine. Our protagonist does try, but just as she stands fully dressed at the inside of her front door, coughing, she hears a cough come from within the house, too.
At that moment, we get a truly gratifying dolly-zoom, and from then on, the viewer is just as curious as the protagonist about what is going on. We feel her fear when her ex knocks on the door, and then the window, when the hole in the wall seems to grow larger, when she pieces together the facts of what happens when she’s asleep, and what’s inside the wall.
This film is the most imaginative psychological horror that I have seen in a long time, and its compelling nature shows through everything from the slow burn that unfurls every time we get a new piece of information to the gore we eventually see. It should come as no surprise that Stucco won the Lizzie Awards at the Women in Horror Film Festival for both Best FX and Best Horror. Without giving too much away, I will say that during the short, I leaned over to my friend to say, “Ho, shit. That looks REAL,” and, “No. Don’t do it, girl. Don’t. I’m scared.” The film is only 17 minutes long—that’s some good execution!
Not only is the cinematography and editing so exact that it seems effortless (though I know it takes a LOT of effort to make anything seem effortless), but the performances, too, are so flawless. Even the funny parts—and yes, there are at least a couple SOLID laughs—are horrifying in a believable way.
I really can’t oversell this short. It’s incredibly imaginative, and there’s no fat on it at all.
You don't have to wait to see Stucco, though, because you can now stream it below!
By Mary Kay McBrayer