Pretty Pickle is the third film I've reviewed from indie filmmaker Jim Vendiola, a Chicago-based indie filmmaker who has been named one of Newcity's Film 50 on three separate occasions. Sublime in his ability to effectively weave together both style and substance, Vendiola possesses a unique artistic voice that seemingly demands both emotional resonance and an almost whimsical transgression.
Pretty Pickle is the latest evidence of Vendiola's joy-filled transgressive spirit. The film had its world premiere at Chattanooga Film Festival and screened just this weekend at the acclaimed HollyShorts Film Festival. My hometown audiences here in Indy may have checked out the film at Days of the Dead while international audiences got to see it at Fantasia Film Festival.
Trust me, this film is in for a long festival run.
If there's any such thing as romantic horror, Vendiola's Pretty Pickle fits the description rather perfectly. Shot sublimely in black-and-white by D.P. Christopher Rejano, Pretty Pickle amplifies all the quirks, insecurities, and anxieties around new relationships and twists that amplification into this quirky little gem. Sam (Brennan Urbi), or Samuel, is about two months into his relationship with Sam (Whitney Masters), or Samantha, and everything is going well and the sex is ahhhh-mazing. Having absorbed himself in this new relationship and largely isolated himself from his friends, a get-together with Patrice (Nadja Simmonds) brings to the surface his increasing obsession with this little quirk that Sam has. Once released, that obsession grows into something else entirely.
Bathing Pretty Pickle in an almost gothic romanticism, Vendiola has crafted a film that defies easy description and transcends genre norms. It's a romantic dramatic horror that also made me laugh. I'm not sure what you call that, but I unquestionably call it an absolute winner of a short film.
Whitney Masters is electrifying as Sam, simultaneously casting herself with both sincerity and menace and a playful sexuality that constantly presents with a certain edge to it. As adventurous as is Masterson's performance, it's also remarkably disciplined as practically every word, gesture, and orgasm feels as if it could be calculated. Quite simply, Masterson's is, I must confess, a disturbingly sexy performance.
Alongside Masters' Sam is Urbi's Sam, a quieter yet no less compelling performance that perfectly companions Masterson. Urbi manages to hold his own by leaning into his normalcy, a young guy getting to know this new girl and seemingly aglow with an exciting new sex life.
As other little pieces are revealed and twists and turns develop, the entire ensemble in Pretty Pickle is spot-on including none other than feline internet sensation Captain Pancakes.
It's not very often in a short film that you have both an Intimacy Coordinator, Meghan Corvino, and a Cat Wrangler, Gracie Hagen, but this is a Jim Vendiola film and it's pretty much anything goes from beginning to end.
Seriously, Pretty Pickle is a masterfully constructed short film with a cinematic tapestry of horror, drama, dark humor, and even darker romanticism. Unlike a good majority of the films you'll see even on the indie fest circuit, Pretty Pickle is a film to watch for at a festival near you.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic