Director Lorcan Finnegan’s short film explores isolation and resentment through a fantasy lens.
Taking a deeper dive down Irish director Lorcan Finnegan’s filmography, I came across his much lauded short, Foxes. Much like Vivarium, Foxes uses aspects from horror and fantasy genres to grapple with the issues of isolation and estrangement. The two films actually share much of the same DNA, though a few interesting elements diverge, mostly based on the difference between science fiction and fantasy.
Ellen (Marie Ruane) and her husband have recently moved to a housing development away from the city. The houses, largely identical, mostly stand vacant and shuttered.
The move has cost Ellen most of the clients for her budding business, and together with the isolation, begins to breed a resentment in her for her husband who chose the house. At night, a troupe of foxes visit the property, as if calling to her…
Same But Different.
IMDB claims that Vivarium remakes and/or homages Foxes. It wouldn’t be the first time that a new director took the opportunity to remake a short once their star was on the rise. For all that, I feel that Foxes and Vivarium share superficial similarities, but diverge quite a bit.
Foxes draws more from folklore and fantasy for its grounding, whereas Vivarium felt more in line with other “aliens infiltrate Earth” films like Under the Skin. While both of Finnegan’s films involve a changeling as a key element, the genre distinctions change the tenor of the film, and as a consequence how the horror elements are deployed.
Myth and Monsters.
Much like other folklore traditions such as Japanese kitsune, Celtic mythology sees foxes as clever shape-shifters. They also are believed to be cunning observers, able to avoid notice. Both of these aspects informs aspects of Foxes: as a photographer, Ellen also blends in to get at her subjects. She also hides mentally from those around her, especially her husband. As the story goes on, she begins to take on physical aspects of the foxes as she stalks them around the neighborhood with her camera.
Much like Vivarium, Foxes showcases Finnegan’s fantastic eye for setting and cinematography. Wide aspect ratios give the impression of sprawl, while also compressing and flattening the imagery. This gives the housing a false-front appearance, as if everything is just an uncanny facade. Tints such as a sepia tone reinforce this artificial feel to the imagery.
Additionally, the lens takes on an anamorphic aspect during match cuts. This “fish eye” effect adroitly puts you into Ellen’s point of view. When Ellen herself becomes the object of the anamorphic shots, you get the eerie feeling of something else watching her.
Clever Like a Fox?
Unfortunately, also like Vivarium, Foxes feels rather unsubtle in its ideas. Many folklore traditions have oppressed heroines escape by taking on an animal persona. It’s an idea heavily baked into the mythology. Foxes really doesn’t do much to elaborate upon the idea, play against expectation, or to mine the concept for significance.
Both films reminded me of The Dead Don’t Die: if your big idea is simply to restate the well-understood subtext of a common genre, you’re really not offering up anything new or interesting. Even though both are really strong from a craft perspective, they wind up feeling like rote exercises where you can see the end coming a mile off.