A young woman who has bizarre terrors goes to a friend's home for dinner. | Maggie and the Mons

09 Apr 2023

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Maggie and the Monster is used with permission from Justin Suttles. Learn more at https://omele.to/40woCUa.

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Maggie is fearful and anxious, plagued by bizarre terrors, and she seems to be going through a difficult transition after a long absence. But she's been invited by her friend Trish to have dinner, which she hopes will help her feel less alone.

Trish and Maggie's conversation is halting, and things take an even more awkward turn when Maggie asks Trish for her boss's email to ask for a job at the clinic where Trish works. Trish is reluctant, and Maggie realizes that her friends see her as damaged. The news puts Maggie in a bad place -- but not as bad as the one Maggie finds herself in when she faces the possibility of being alone after dinner is over.

Directed and written by Justin Suttles, this horror short is a portrait of a woman haunted by spectral terrors, trying to live a semblance of a normal life that only makes her feel even more anxious and afraid. Visually shrouded in shadows with lurking, creeping camerawork, it's also a powerful metaphor for the isolation that those with mental health struggles or differences can feel from the world around them, especially when friends and family see them as defective -- and are also unwilling to talk and listen openly.

Essentially a two-hander framed by an opening and closing scene, the heart of the narrative is the dinner conversation between Trish and Maggie. Skilled, rich and piercing, the dialogue takes the premise of two friends who haven't seen one another in a long time to fill in Maggie's backstory. We learn she went on a trip to the mountains, took some drugs, had some kind of psychotic break, and felt haunted by beings -- and then disappeared for five months. Now she is back and trying to reintegrate into her former life.

But as Maggie and Trish talk, Maggie realizes how her friends' lives have sped ahead while hers has not, as well as the gap between their relative normality versus her own fragile, vulnerable headspace. Most painfully, Maggie is horrified to realize that she's now branded as "crazy" by most of her friend circle, and is treated as an object of pity. As Maggie, actor Catherine Atkinson gives an achingly raw, pitch-perfect performance, capturing an already vulnerable person realizing how truly alone she is with her struggles. As those feelings sharpen and dinner draws to a close, she becomes needy, and it's painful to watch Maggie beg Trish not to leave her alone after dinner, leading to an ugly confrontation.

Gripping, sinister and absorbing, "Maggie and the Monster" has a finale that fulfills the promise of its dark visuals and horror film stylings, building up suspense into a chilling climax. But the film differentiates itself from more rote exercises in craft with its deep psychological insight, thanks to richly drawn characters, thoughtful craftsmanship and terrific performances. Maggie's backstory is intriguing enough to flesh out a feature, while the end -- though seemingly definitive about what exactly haunts Maggie -- promises even more questions and world-building to explore. But as a self-contained short, it's a powerful evocation of the delicate frame of mind that someone struggling faces when encountering pity and judgment from "the outside" -- and the distress that can cause, especially when mental health and related topics remain taboo to discuss openly.

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A young woman who has bizarre terrors goes to a friend's home for dinner. | Maggie and the Monster


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