Short Film Review: Six (Anim).
This short film from the Philippines is a gripping psychological horror that speaks volumes despite being silent.
Sometimes short films are such a treat. Given the constraints of the genre, you get to see cinema pared down to the essentials. Director Caleb Mercado does just that in his five minute short, Six (Anim), available to stream on Viddsee. Hitting the trifecta for difficulty, the film is incredibly short, shot partially in black and white, and silent. Working within those bounds, the director manages to convey much complexity. This short jumps on you with its eerie visuals and then hooks you with all of the implications of those images.
Six (Anime) 
An elderly woman settles down in her favorite chair, eventually slipping into a waking nightmare. Haunted by visions from her past, she is forced to relive her mistakes…but perhaps her torment is of her own choosing?
The imagery in this short is simple but eye-catching: a porcelain doll with intense eyes, a religious icon depicting suffering, bloody hands, an old woman’s face. The skillful way that the director contrasts and orders those images tells the story. On the surface you get the broad strokes of a woman gripped by a past event where she helps a prostitute get an illicit abortion. The match cuts from one set of eyes to another show you how the narrative is unfolding. With such subtle cues, you get the implications with the bare minimum of explication. This works towards the film’s other strength: ambiguity.
Penance or Perversion?
I enjoyed that each time I watched the film, it offered another interpretation. At first, I thought the woman was helping a friend to get rid of a pregnancy, which wound up in a tragedy. The presence of childish artifacts and Christian icons made me think the source of guilt was the dead fetus. The doll could be a stand in for the potential child, looking on in grim judgement as the woman suffers horrible visions as punishment for her role in the event. The slight smile on the woman’s face as we see her repeat the exact same ritual that led up to the vision seemed like self-inflicted penance, again keeping with the religious connotations.
The next time I watched it, certain gestures and actions seemed malevolent. The look on the woman’s face as she guides the prostitute. The juxtaposition of her plain looks compared to the prostitutes gaudy good looks. Her jealous air made me think she may have enjoyed punishing the woman looking to have an abortion. Maybe she was a monster, and her final smile was grim satisfaction that she could relive the other woman’s pain as often as she liked.
So Much from So Little.
Six (Anim) is a great showcase of a director who thoroughly understands the implications of how we construct meaning from film. When film was in its infancy, people actually disliked match cuts and eye-line matches – they didn’t instinctively get that if you show eyes and then another image that it implied we are now seeing what those eyes were looking at. Now that we’re immersed in film techniques from childhood, a director who understands those rules can guide your attention and understanding of the narrative with seeming ease. A really clever director can play with them to open up a wealth of subtle meanings. Caleb Mercado does so to great effect here, creating a wicked little film that you replay over and over again, like the woman caught in the nightmare of her own making.