Feb 8, 2024
Jennifer James, Billy Herring, Shah Hussain
Curiouser is a short film from Gabriel Athanasiou that follows an Alice without a wonderland. A clear homage to Lewis Carroll’s much-loved story turns the creepiness and outlandish to the max – but keeps the focus on a human throughline.
After being offered tea from an extravagant stranger (Billy Herring) a young woman (Jennifer James) experiences a psychedelic, ethereal journey through an unknown space. Visions from the past and future seem to call to her, as she transverses the dark in search of meaning. It takes an unlikely confrontation to help her see the purpose of her vision, and gain clarity about who she is.
Electing not to focus intently on the ‘Alice’ allusions and instead on its central character proves an astute choice from director Gabirel Athanasiou. The fantastical, colourful aesthetic that viewers immediately recall is like catnip to directors obsessed with the visuals of ‘weird’ over engaging storytelling. Curiouser is an altogether darker film – much of it being spent in almost pitch-black with only its ‘Alice’ (or Elliot in this case) visible, a far cry from the Mad Hatter’s tearoom. Delving deep into Elliot’s psyche to explore a traumatic and detached childhood, the focus remains on bringing to life a flawed and vulnerable character on a journey to understanding and reconciliation. Despite a lack of visual spectacle, this sits it firmly in the company of the better ‘Alice’ iterations.
The story is a little one-note beyond this – with the central theme strong but one that doesn’t really get to explore wider implications about how the past relates to the present. Much of Elliot’s life is left to interpretation, which creates an interesting dynamic whereby the story’s darkness is defined by what the viewer brings with them. Athanasiou’s ability to let scenes linger in certain key moments, or create discomfort from the tiniest details facilitates this – along with a short but creepily memorable performance from Billy Herring in the film’s opening.
Jennifer James captures Elliot’s battle between curiosity and vulnerability with effortless ease. There is a sense of longing in her facial language that demonstrates the character’s drive for the truth against overwhelming and unsettling forces she does not understand. Her growing confidence throughout the film is more noticeable when she is able to stand in the face of Herring’s Hatter character, having undergone a personal transformation that has left her at ease with herself – though still adjacent to the strangeness of her world.
Curiouser is a fine take on a classic story that launches itself to its own agency using its source material, as opposed to being propped up by it. Inventive filmmaking and dark overtones means this short captures complexity well.