Transition (Transición) (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. David Velduque (2023)
Angela, an older trans woman who lives alone and is afraid of change, struggles to deal with reality when a new caregiver arrives.
I'll be honest here at the beginning of my review: I had a really hard time writing this one. David Velduque's new short Transition impacted me greatly, but I was largely left with a lack of words to explain exactly how it made me feel. It's not a feeling that I often have: I generally breeze right through reviews, writing them in roughly the time it would take me to speak the words (a whole stream of consciousness thing, if you feel me). This one, though, was different, and I've written and rewritten several paragraphs before eventually erasing them and starting again. What is it about this film that leaves me with such a lack of words? Hopefully, we can break down the film and also discuss some of the ways it made me feel.
Transition is about an older trans woman named Angela (Celeste Gonzales) who lives alone but also has a caretaker (Zack Gomez) with whom she appears to be very close. Unfortunately, he is not able to visit her and sends another woman in his place. Angela, who struggles with her own anxiety, paranoia, and potentially other mental illnesses, does not react to the change well, undergoing a series of hallucinations and manifestations of her troubled mind. As the night progresses, she begins to believe that she is in danger, but is the new caretaker really just there to provide her service or is there something more sinister at play?
The film is an excellent depiction of mental illness and the expression of anxiety and isolation, especially in someone who has lived the type of life that an older trans person would have lived. Add in the changes to her schedule, which can wreak havoc on the mental health in even the most "sane" of people, and it's easy to see how she could deteriorate so quickly. Velduque does a marvelous job of humanizing Angela and her struggles, allowing the audience into her damaged psyche in what quickly becomes a devastatingly sad portrayal of an aging woman. Celeste Gonzales' performance is nuanced and equal to the task at hand, delivering in a role that is at once terrifying and beautiful.
Transgender people in media are gaining more representation, which is a good thing for the LGBT movement and media as a whole. It is impossible to tell every story that yearns to be told without including everyone who has a story to tell, and it's wonderful that the acceptance of what has previously been "other" is allowing these tales to come to life on screen. While most trans roles seek to normalize and remove the fear of their differences from the public, as has been the case for almost every other underrepresented group that has gained acceptance in general society, Transition leans into that difference. By utilizing a shocking opening sequence that features full-frontal and pre-transitioned nudity to remove the audience from their comfort zones, Velduque makes the case that perhaps there should be nothing at all shocking about the scene. After all, for thousands of people around the world, this is no more different than it would be for any of us (who like to sleep in the nude). It's normalization through immersion, and it's masterfully done.
The artistically shot black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and helps blend the beauty with the macabre, and Velduque has crafted a chilling and disorienting dissection of the inevitable changes in life. It is a disturbing short packed to the gills with scares, including some excellent effects work that makes even the more anxiety-inducing scenes realistic. It's really a fantastic short and one that should be seen by a wide audience, and hopefully Fantastic Fest can bring it to that audience. While the ending leaves a little to be desired and the short finale begs for a longer runtime, it's an incredibly unique and moving short that I really enjoyed.
Who this movie is for: Short horror fans, LGBT horror lovers, Skin pickers
Bottom line: While it may be ironic that one of the first films to leave me without words also resulted in the longest review I've ever written for a short, Transition is well worth the larger word count. It's a film that is equal parts mystifying and horrifying, a really well-done short that begs to be seen by a wider audience. The performances are great, the cinematography is beautiful, and the message is spot-on. The only thing that it really needs is a few more minutes to avoid an ending that felt slightly rushed, but the rest of the film is excellent. Kudos to Velduque for making a fantastic film. If you get a chance to check it out at Fantastic Fest, it's well worth your time.