“Estigma” was FREAKY! Woven amid an odd, stalkerish hookup that was hot to watch is a crawling hint of something devious and creepy: a bug. It’s enough for our young man to turn out the attractive hookup while he tends to the rather larger and bleeding bug bites. Bugs writhing, agonising pain, more blood – it’s a horror film’s wonderland! When the true “twist” is finally revealed, not only does it utterly shock the viewer but for many of us Queer viewers, it gives us a new level of terror. Thankfully, there’s that glimpse of hope that not all is lost. But David Velduque truly takes us down a dark path beforehand! Do NOT miss out on this short horror film!
Synopsis of “Estigma”
“Estigma” starts off rather slow, but very quickly builds up momentum. Our young man (Manuel Tejera) is picking away at a hole in the wall, which he covers up with a poster. He suddenly gets a text from someone, but replies that he’s just not in the mood tonight. But then the guy asks if his parent’s have left for the weekend yet… continuing onward that he’s “in the neighbourhood”. Suddenly, we hear a knock on the front door! Cautiously he peers though the peephole to spy Dani (Álvaro Fontalba) peering back at him. It’s clear that the boys know each other somehow, and that our visitor is here for a hookup! Gradually, our visitor teases and begins making out with our man and before long, the clothes are on the floor – but our guy still is nervous for some reason. Ah, our visitor remembers to put on a condom! Things quickly escalate to the sofa and then the bed, but the camera continues panning down onto the floor where their clothes are piled – then the pants move!
While they fuck, a cockroach/bug begins crawling out of the pile of clothes and up between our lead’s legs while he’s being fucked. “Ouch! Something bit me!” he cries, pushing our Dani off him, shattering the mood. Unfortunately the moment is lost, so Dani just sees himself out the door while our lead curls up in bed. He starts to text Dani… but then deletes the text. Except while he’s lying there, the bug slowly crawls up his back and bites his neck! Horrified, he grabs the bug and smashes it on the ground. Trying to clean everything up, he throws the sheets into the laundry and goes to the bathroom to clean up. While he’s there, he examines the wound on his leg… there’s something white crawling out of it! Panicking, he tries to yank it out with tweezers, crying out in agonising pain. Finally he succeeds – it’s a bug larvae! While starring at the bug, suddenly he spasms as his back erupts with more bugs crawling out of the bites… crying out in agony, he collapses against the wall, trailing blood while the begs morph him into a monster.
Silence. The next morning it’s still. The washing machine has stopped, no one is about. The guy’s phone rings – Dani is trying to call; but our guy is nowhere to be found. Until suddenly, he reaches out from the shadow where he collapsed and picks up the phone. Appearing as if nothing happened, he listens to the voicemail from Dani. Dani tries to apologise for being too forward last night, but admits that he still wants to be with him – that he doesn’t care about the HIV status. “After all, you’re undetectable”. As the camera zooms out, we detect a glimpse of a smile.
The reason “Estigma” works so spectacularly is multifold. First, David Velduque had a brilliant team working with NEURADS and the Spanish TV show Indetectables. An award winning director himself, Velduque brings his own brilliance and keen imagination to create a cinematographic masterpiece that perfectly captures the mood. Camera angles are slow and steady to start, but quickly cut back and forth when the horror is revealed. He knows how to set up and build the fear factor, playing with our own psyches while we watch. Even the production crew have created a stunning canvas to weave around, utilising colour and light in rather inventive ways.
Our two leads, Manuel Tejera and Álvaro Fontalba, are the second reason why this queer horror short succeeds. Manuel perfectly brings to life a quiet, young man who is lost while trying to cope and keep on living with such a dark and deadly secret. Álvaro counters that with his cute, boyish charm – but there’s an undertone that feels a tad stalker-ish; even possessive and demanding. Of course, they’re both directed to push their roles in order to bring the true horror of the plot twist to life. But it’s quite enjoyable to watch Álvaro bring a cute kindness with his final voicemail; he’s actually a good guy trying to be supportive!
But it’s the third key facet that creates this stunning film: the script and plot twist! In an interview, David Velduque noted the following about his vision for the film:
“The story puts one universal question in front of you, a question we all have faced before. ‘Would you love me if..’ ‘Would you love me if I showed you my fears, my phobias, my inner demons…?’ In the end, if you really got to know me as I truly am, from the inside out, would you still love me?”
And it works – stunningly! Yet at the same time, the actual script and plot of “Estigma” is rather simple. While both Marco Laborda and David Velduque are noted as the writers, it’s clear that they both have a strong talent in film.
Now THIS is a horror short done right – WOW! Equally, it’s clear why “Estigma” has won its handful of awards. David Velduque takes us on a powerful journey into the deep psyche and underlying fear of those living with HIV, giving those of us who do not have HIV a tiny glimpse into that darkness by utilising the horror genre. It’s haunting, it’s terrifying, and it’s educational – it’s almost perfection in a queer short film! I’m so impressed, I want to find more of his work. Hands down – if there is only one film from the festival that you caught, I truly hope that it was “Estigma”. It’s THAT impressive.