Written and directed by Brett Chapman, co-written by Scott Milligan, sinister secrets await Kiddo and her teenage compatriots as they embark on a day trip to famed theme-park Wonderland. Starring: Lisa Howard, Lauren Patel, Paddy Stafford and Toby Gaffney.
Hitting you first when diving into Kiddo is its superbly sharp and colourful aesthetic. The cinematography (by Jordan Carroll) hits such a satisfying level of contrast with how the different colours work together, balancing light with dark, and a modern with a classic feel. Brett Chapman brings a tone and atmosphere that feel somewhere between Yorgos Lanthimos and Ben Sharrock, with a touch of Willy’s Wonderland thrown in. Chapman creates a wonderful blend of genre, while it is primarily horror themed, it has a dose of sci-fi dystopia and an edge of mystery thriller. It’s odd and a little wacky but still holds a structure and weight to it. There’s a hint of a haunting feel which grows as time goes on, it lives within that balance of vibrancy and darkness, both visually and thematically.
One of the really interesting aspects of Kiddo is that you could interpret the story in many different ways and likely its viewers will. You could draw anything from the meat industry to immigration to care work and more depending on your interpretation. However, it does feel most closely along the lines of farming and animals, asking questions about caring versus food. In a world of dwindling resources, it’s an extremely relevant topic and horror is always a good choice to heighten the edgier side of subjects. The translation of the topic into this world of jumpsuits and theme parks works extremely well, it feels a touch familiar but still entirely original, in the sense that it’s carving its own path but not going completely off the rails. As well as the fact that it creates a tone which has that darker, full on side but keeps a quirky feel, which is extremely well done to hold onto a fun atmosphere. An aspect which is also helped by the choice of music, an upbeat tune during a horrible moment is always a satisfying contrast.
Another element of that is the surprisingly sincere naivety brought by Lisa Howard, it’s a difficult thing for adults to bring that childlike quality but Howard does it extremely well. Especially when it’s then deepened by her growing understanding and how she’s underestimated. Lauren Patel then brings the purer form of that energy, new and bouncy but with a pinch of mistrust that comes from a very empathetic personality interpreting a dubious situation. Paddy Stafford and Toby Gaffney on the other hand represent the entire opposite personas, gruff and hardened. They portray the age difference in their perspectives, Stafford the younger and not quite completely disillusioned but lingering on the precipice, while Gaffney waded in long ago. It’s a great mix of different personalities and each of the cast get the energy dead on to dive straight into this story without hesitation.
Kiddo creates a perfect balance of a rich, textured colourfulness in its visual and a quirky, layered darkness in its story. Its tone is pitch perfect, it plays with a number of different themes and reinterprets them with its odd yet not too far removed setting, the latter of which may sound disturbing but it genuinely doesn’t feel entirely outlandish, even if twisted. There’s some great details, the visual is well thought out, it has a solid atmosphere throughout and it has a sadistically satisfying patter to it. One of the key elements to the success of this short is that it feels self-aware, you can’t create a fun yet warped story in this manner without keeping one hand on that wheel to know where your line of sincerity is. It’s entertaining, enigmatic and excellently shot.