Erax is a short film from Netflix, part of its Emerging Fimmamkers Initiative (EFI) program. It bears the influences of VHS classics such as Ghoulies or Munchies while playing like a story from Goosebumps. It’s a hoot.
Hebru Brantley creates a world and a vibe within mere seconds, setting the stage for a creepy tongue-in-cheek creature feature. Utilizing a clever combination of CGI and old-school puppetry, Brantley creates a mood and aesthetic with lighting and camera angles courtesy of Bongani Mlambo. As a result, Erax feels like something out of a fairy-tale book, lean and mean, while filled with magic that we can’t rightly explain.
Opal (Jasmine Cephas Jones) is late for her niece, Nina’s (Genesis White) birthday party. Upon arriving, she’s met with her angry brother Cliff (Lance Gross), who lectures her about always being late. Then, late for work, he leaves in a huff. Thus Brantley and his co-writer Henry G.M. Jones have given us the meat and potatoes of Erax, that of owning up for our mistakes before the consequences come back back and harm us in unforeseen ways.
It becomes clear that Opal is fond of making promises but has trouble keeping them, but the larger issue is that she seems incapable of taking responsibility for her actions. But we also learn that Nina’s mother abandoned her and her father, just as Opal and Cliff’s mother did as well. Erax has monsters and intriguing and engrossing mythology. Still, at its core, it’s trying to show how trauma leads to a toxic mindset of rugged individualism that is equally if not more harmful.
Mlambo’s camerawork and placement help Brantley tell his story expediently and stylishly. For example, in the beginning, we see Opal’s car back into a book house. Brantley thrusts us into the world of Erax while also creating a sense of urgency. Granted, this is because Josie Azzam’s editing creates a visual rhythm that booths draws us in and piques our curiosity.
Erax manages to be somewhat creepy and fun while never sacrificing one for the other. Mainly because Brantley and his crew aim for a storybook feel, a feat they achieve through the lighting and camera placement. Mlambo’s camera is never where you’d expect it while somehow never feeling ostentatious. Fitting, considering the devilish creatures that terrorize Opal and Nina come from a mysterious old storybook and are themselves little ciphers of chaos. Jones and White make for a believable Aunt and Neice, hinting at a past that goes beyond the opening credits.
However, at one point, it seems that Opal may be in danger of becoming an Erax herself if she doesn’t own up to her past. It’s an interesting thread that, despite it being the narrative center, feels underserved by Brantley and Jones. At the same time, the vagueness of it all gives Erax a feel of an oral story passed down from generation to generation. Like a story told by the campfire, it makes enough sense for what it is.
The puppeteers Russ Walko, Nicolette Santino, Raymond Carr, and Grant Baciocco make the Erax energetic and exert a playful menace. But they don’t exactly stand apart; one Erax is the same as any other Erax. Still, the film is a scant ten minutes, and the fact that it builds any kind of mythology at all while telling a creepy functional story is impressive.
Brantley shows a flair for visuals and tone that many bigger-budget movies lack. Erax is a fun, creepy short film that, while low-budget, never feels cheap.
Images courtesy of Netflix
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