Fishmonger (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. Neil Ferron (2023)
A man must be married before his mother dies or he risks her soul being condemned to Hell.
Short film is often one of the most fitting ways to tell a horror story, a singular short often reminiscent of the scary stories told in front of campfires or beneath the covers lit only by flashlight, long after your parents already expected you and your friends to be asleep. While the anthology film can have this same effect at feature length, a good horror short accomplishes its goals succinctly and effectively by telling a complete story while never overstaying its welcome. This is even more accurate when the story being told is perhaps not one that could flesh out an entire feature. More on that later...
Writer/director Neil Ferron's new short Fishmonger accomplishes all of these things with gusto, telling an entire (disgusting) story filled with folklore and humor while never feeling too long. It's easy for a short to get lost and feel like it has to extend its runtime, and Ferron expertly avoids that pitfall by getting in, telling his story, and getting out. Fishmonger tells the tale of a middle-aged man named Christie (Dominic Burgess) who is desperately trying to get married because of a weird local custom that says that a mother who dies with an unwed son will be damned to Hell for all eternity. Having recently blown his chance with the love of his life, Christie turns instead to a local legend of a siren who lives beneath the waves and can be summoned by a strange (and, again, disgusting) ritual to serve as his bride.
By leaning into the comedic aspects of gross-out horror, Fishmonger becomes a strangely endearing Disney sing-along of a horror short. The effects are excellent for the budget and the acting is nothing short of fantastic. Star Dominic Burgess is both pitiable and charming as he attempts to save his mother's soul by summoning the fish creature at the heart of the story. The songs come out of left field and add tremendously to the experience, turning what could have otherwise been an appalling story into a darkly comedic fairy tale with a Hans Christian Andersen feel. At times stomach-churning and at others heartfelt, Ferron has created one of the strangest shorts that you'll ever see, and that's a very good thing.
Ferron is attempting to use Fishmonger as a sort of proof-of-concept for a feature film with the same story. He's certainly talented enough to make it happen, and while I am generally wary of shorts that attempt to make the jump to feature, some of the better horror directors working today have done just that with their earlier filmmaking efforts. Ferron's eye for interesting shots and his wicked sense of humor indicate he could be the next director to make that jump. I, for one, would love to see what he can do with a longer script and a bigger budget.
Who this movie is for: Short horror fans, Gross-out comedy lovers, Sushi fanatics
Bottom line: Gross and yet somehow appealing, Fishmonger is a bizarre mixture between Jackson's Dead Alive and Disney's The Little Mermaid. Writer/director Neil Ferron does a fantastic job bringing his vision to the screen, and while this brand of humor isn't for everyone, it works perfectly for the twisted short that he brings to life. This one is screening at Fantastic Fest right now, and if you get the chance to check it out, I highly recommend doing so.