[Fantasia Digital 2020 Review] DON'T TEXT BACK
Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival
Toxic masculinity and Tinder mistakes are familiar horrors for plenty of women, and the playful short film DON’T TEXT BACK explores both through a snarky, light-hearted, and delightfully queer lens. Written and directed by Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp, the film examines the ways that “the heteronormative dating cycle” can strangle women both literally and figuratively.

Kelly (Danielle Lapointe) has a problem. Her terrible Tinder date Will (Py Letellier) won’t stop texting her to come see his band play. Even worse, he sends her a cursed locket with an unbreakable chain that chokes her every time she takes too long to text back. To remove the curse, she goes to see Jaren (Nancy Webb) — “like Karen but with a J” — a self-described energy healer/graphic designer whose apartment is filled with satirically Instagram-ready witchiness: white walls, white furniture, white decor, some dried flowers, and a few crystals.

After the “guy problems” crystal doesn’t work to remove the locket, Jaren gets to the bottom of things by scrolling through Will’s hilariously off-putting dating profile and identifying the source of his magic as a particularly nasty men’s rights group called The Brotherhood of Brotherhood. She tries to get the locket off Kelly’s neck through a little magic of her own, but eventually, Jaren has to rely on some good old-fashioned reverse psychology to release Will’s grip on Kelly.

DON’T TEXT BACK leans hard into the comedic side of horror-comedy with a tone that’s very breezy and tongue-in-cheek, landing multiple laugh-out-loud moments in its 15-minute runtime, but its horror is still quite effective. When Kelly rips off her scarf to reveal the nasty wound on her neck from the locket’s (and Will’s) seemingly inescapable violence, it’s shocking and painful to look at. It’s a visceral and immensely relatable metaphor for the raw, suffocating feeling you get when a man just won’t leave you alone. The film maintains its glib hilarity throughout and has fun with its horror — at one point the necklace comes alive, complete with tiny little gold fangs — but it’s still a timely piece of feminist cultural critique.

Lapointe and Webb have terrific comedic chemistry, trading one deadpan punchline after another, but their chemistry doesn’t end there. When Jaren asks Kelly (with perhaps a hint of coyness) why she feels like she’s limited to dating just men, Kelly reveals that she’s queer but has always struggled with feelings of sapphic validity. Later, Jaren has to physically restrain Kelly from texting Will back, and she does so by laying her down on a table and straddling her. Once the evil locket is defeated and Will finally decides to leave Kelly alone, the two women go out on a date. It’s a refreshingly light ending to a horror story that will be very familiar to many women in the audience.

With engaging performances and a wickedly funny script, DON’T TEXT BACK is a fun and witty horror short that feels like a queer breath of fresh air.

DON’T TEXT BACK screened at Fantasia International Film Festival on August 26th and September 1st. It was presented with the feature film Bleed With Me.

Don’t Text Back – Short Film Trailer from Mariel Scammell on Vimeo.

Jessica Scott
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