Directed by: #ShelbyBaldock
Written by: #NoahCLekas
Short Film Review by: Corey Bulloch
“I’ll be damned if the good Lord didn’t put me here to be more than a notebook”
A beautiful fire of a film, a burning passion of art and anger, nihilistic rage manifested into incredible illustration, We Got a Problem with Groundwater is a triumph. Adapted from a poem by Noah C. Lekas, director and illustrator Shelby Baldock brings this hauntingly twisted world to life with a striking surrealist vision. The animation is in constant conflict with itself; harsh streaks of watercolour reds and oranges flood the background, mixing together, always flowing like poisoned water against the still figures. The structures, characters and events of Baldock’s world are designed in a hybrid comic graffiti style, exaggerated shapes and expressions. Mesmerising detail with every new drawing that sinks you deeper into the film and Baldock’s use of movement with the camera has it reminiscent of a comic strip like every cut was taking you to a new panel, a new detail to observe.
The art style feels inspired by other surrealist animators like Don Hertzfeldt but We Got a Problem with Groundwater has a powerful voice on its own. Described as “a tale of the working conditions in the American midwest” the themes and vision of the film can easily speak to the larger contexts of what’s wrong with the world. It’s a damnation of the cycle, this inescapable hopelessness that existence has become, all of it consumed by a moral decay of apathy and ignorance. Themes of religion, consumerism, climate change are touched upon but it’s how the film shows human lives to be so mercilessly expendable that makes the film so bleak. Baldock’s artwork may give the film its surrealist and unique style but it doesn’t hide the fact that Lekas’ words speak to our grim reality. It can seem dystopian at first but it becomes quickly clear that this is our world, our failures and neglect that has left it rotten to the core.
The narration from Ron Gephart is brilliant, a rich grizzled gravitas that bleeds incredible life into Lekas’ words. You can feel this bitter, defeated anger to his performance mixed with a dry wit, darkly amused by how far society has withered, at how horrible and pathetic it has all become. He speaks of the Midwest, of people and experiences around him, horrifying tales of how men are churned and killed inside the sawmills, fodder to the cycle. Baldock makes this disturbing yet poignant point on how we all become desensitised to the violence around us, that our lives are nothing but expendable commodities, that our fate is nothing more than to serve and die. The power of Gephart’s delivery of the final line has us question if there is anything we can do about it, perfectly capturing that sense of righteous fury lost in the void.
Memorable in the most forlorn of ways, We Got a Problem with Groundwater is an unforgettable portrait of the modern world. Baldock and Lekas’ harsh and unforgiving portrayal of society and it’s cruel machinations are mesmerising through animation, performance and score (also done by Baldock). A technical and thematic accomplishment, it accomplishes so much in less than five minutes, having the audience contemplate on all the rot that has poisoned the water around us.