The best horror creeps its way into your psyche. The best horror, at least for me, is borne out of a weaving together of life meets fantasy, joy meets sorrow. Horror isn't always necessarily frightening in the traditional sense and it's certainly not always violent or gory or even shocking. For me, the best horror taps into our vulnerabilities as human beings and demands that we look into these vulnerabilities stemming from our desire to love and be loved, our fears spoken and unspoken, and those places in our lives where we must compensate for lack by creating an alternate reality.
So, it was with some sense of trepidation that I met Joy (Laura Carmichael, Downton Abbey), the central figure in Celine Cotran's horror short Legs. As we meet Joy, she is a young woman in the midst of one of life's familiar rituals - that of trying to conceive a baby with her husband, Harry (Amit Shah, The Hundred Foot Journey). This is a difficult journey for many couples, a combination of joy and fear with the questions of "Will we?" or "Won't we?" a near constant presence. The moment we first eye Joy it becomes apparent that this journey is already a frustrating one, unmet longing companioned by a husband who appears, at the very least, less emotionally invested in its outcome. One night following what appears to have been another unsuccessful attempt, Joy apparently swallows a spider while asleep. Suddenly developing an insatiable appetite for flies, Joy comes to realize there may be more than one way to become a mother.
I must confess now, of course, that Legs tapped into my own personal history as someone who lost both wife and mother/child in a moment of tragedy that has come to define, at least in some ways, my relational history. As an adult with a disability, I'd long shied away from envisioning this aspect of a perfect life - a wife, a child, a family. When it was unexpectedly taken away from me, I found ways to cope that were a combination of stark reality and doses of fantasy. This dream, the dream of many if not most human beings, would never again enter my life. My life, while for the most part a happy one, has become a patchwork tapestry of unmet longing, trauma, desires for connection and, well, love.
In many ways, the same is true for our beloved Joy. In this just shy of 16-minute short film, Joy puts forth a reality for herself that is grounded in both deep reality and an surrealism grounded in both universal experience and intimacy. No matter how surreal Legs gets, Laura Carmichael is extraordinary in her ability to draw us into Joy's aching humanity and the web, one could say, that draws all of us into the immensely relatable Joy. Amit Shah is equally compelling as Joy's husband Harry, who has difficulty meeting her in this place where she finds herself yet whose presence here is absolutely essential to how the story unfolds.
A master stroke in Alannah Lewis's creative and insightful script is the addition of the character Amanda, beautifully brought to life by Sarah Kameela Impey (We Are Lady Parts), Joy's best friend who amplifies Joy's trauma simply by experience her own more traditional pregnancy filled with traditional pregnancy moments like feeling the baby kick and sensing the baby's heartbeat. Sarah essentially serves as the bridge between the film's grounded realism and its surrealistic framework.
Set for its world premiere at the U.K.'s iconic FrightFest, Legs benefits greatly from D.P. Mark Kuczewski's mood-setting lensing and an overall atmosphere that envelopes us in Joy's unique world that is simultaneously aching and fantastic.
With a unique voice and story to be told, Legs should enjoy quite the extensive festival run and is definitely a film to look for as it begins its festival journey.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic