Ariel Hansen’s CLOUT (2020) is a thirteen-ish minute short that mixes the catty world of influencers, strange (otherworldly) creatures, and the word “babe” into a pretty tight package. While some of the acting is a bit too on the nose (the beginning with forced saccharine and oozing thanks to subscribers), the relationship with her boyfriend (the aforementioned “babe”), and her horrifically shady past of being into…prog metal(?), for the time and budget it was created with, it’s a pretty enjoyable watch.
I’ll come clean and admit I’m not all that interested in influencers. Apart from hearing on the news-cuff of their wild exploits (drinkable bath water), I’m not really a part of this scene. However, it’s an easy trope to follow and one that permeates throughout “The Female” in horror – it’s about looks. Most of our female killers or legends basically revolve around being (and staying) beautiful and, well, babies (either killing, making, eating, etc.).
But does CLOUT hold up well in creating horror from a common trope? Let’s take a deeper look.
The plot revolves around some type of model/influencer, Lyra (Ariel Hansen), who is normally paid generally well and has a large following. The film lightly hints at the frustrations of the modern world for this generation – self-promotion and representation. It’s all about how far to push yourself, how long to keep working, just to get your name out there. In fact, her minority counterparts bring up the fact that it’s harder for them to get paying jobs, inferring racism, which she brushes aside as not working smart or hard enough.
Her boyfriend (Catlin Franks), too, is in the influencer community (I assume also selling things) and their relationship seems shallow and frail from the get-go. They are together because it looks good, although it seems like Lyra has some genuine feelings and the insecurity that he will no longer like her if she’s…kinda goth? Into prog-metal? This is basically examined via a picture and a song, so the concept falls a bit flat. I would have liked a few extra lines or another scene to hash out her feelings of inadequacy in her relationship and her inauthenticity.
Oh well. Anyway, while taking photos in the woods one day, she gets bitten/infected by a glowing light bug thing…It seems to feed and grow into a larva on her back as she watches her followers slowly decrease and her job offers rescinded. It seems that the more the creature feeds, the more tired and withered she looks.
This all comes to a head when she sees her boyfriend cheating on her at a public party, of which she wasn’t invited. She decides to storm the event and face this head-on, but at what cost?
Okay, I’ll say it. The cover art for CLOUT is fan-freaking-tastic. It’s a throwback to 80’s horror cover art and I want it on my wall right. flippin’. now. Covered in neon. And blood.
Anyway, that being said, the short doesn’t quite live up to the cover (as most movies don’t with phenomenal 80’s cover art), but it’s a fun ride, especially for the range of its scope. I would’ve liked to have seen more depth when it comes to the actual lives, back-stabbery, and rise as an influencer; including the caveats of female vs male, aging women vs young women, minorities vs majorities (we see a taste), and everything in between. Also, I wanted to know why the creature feeds off of that energy. Why and how was she chosen, or why was she a prime specimen for feasting on?
Obviously, the creature is a metaphor; however, I wanted a little more life to it. The design wasn’t bad, but it was hard to tell if the characters just were so wrapped up in their own lives that they were oblivious, or they really couldn’t see a huge alien tick hanging off of her back.
I can see this film easily being expanded into a full-length feature. With some clever rewrites, CLOUT could be a very tongue-in-cheek unflinching look at the “monsters we create” within our own lives and our proxies who we follow on the internet (literally feeding off their energy like parasites). While Hansen’s performance isn’t bad, I think her work is best at direction because the story has a smooth, cohesive tone and plot. There are some good ideas in there and with some more teasing out (and funding), I think she could direct a full length that’s engaging and relevant. I think she has enormous potential as a director of horror, especially for the body horror and feminist subgenres.
I’m curious with what Hansen has to offer in the future and look forward to her honing and strengthening her craft and voice. CLOUT is currently playing the festival circuit.