On Tuesday I was fortunate to attend the world premiere of “Inhuman,” a short film by Hayley Tibbenham, a junior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Ten other members of the cast and crew were present at the premiere, including director of photography Joshua Knoller (his “Talk to Me” was an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016). “Inhuman” is “not your average high school Rom-Com,” according to the film’s Facebook page. For a no-spoilers plot rundown: The film follows Alice, her “friends” who think she should be thinner and Elliot, the nice guy with a romantic interest in our teenage lead. Alice isn’t too keen on Elliot, for a reason which will be made clear in the final scene. (A hint to keep you engaged: pay attention to the books mentioned during the beginning of the film.) Partially shot in Holland, Michigan, the beach scenes are beautiful — the film makes use of a relatively cool color palette throughout, with a few intentional bursts of crimson. The iconic Holland lighthouse is one of these cochineal punctuations. The framing of this particular scene echoes Wes Anderson, in the best possible way.
By the time the credits roll, you get a sense that this is a film complete in its entirety. By this, I mean to say it reaches its full potential only by the end of its final scene. Independent of the exciting plot-twisting at the end, the film has a certain superficiality. Initially, the subject matter and dialogue lack depth, and ask little of the viewer. I enjoy being absorbed and interrogated by a film. Inhuman doesn’t interrogate or challenge, until the last moment. That being said, watching the credits appear brought a smirk to my face. The foreshadowing and cinematographic hints began to make sense. What appeared initially superficial became multidimensional.
In a short Q&A after the premiere, Tibbenham (director, writer and star) said she wanted her film to be viewed not as an identity piece. She believes labelling a work of art an “identity piece” can be patronizing, and only applies to underrepresented groups. This is part-rom-com, part-fantasy. Tibbenham wanted to make a film in which someone “different” could be the star, someone outside the visually homogeneous battery of A-list actors and actresses. For a film that deals with self-image and self-confidence, it takes a novel approach and encourages the viewer to question all sides of the debate. Not only should we not force ourselves and our friends to fit a certain mold, but we should also not expect those who don’t fit to feel a certain way. To broaden the argument, being an ally means different things in different situations. “Inhuman,” in the most fantastical way, reminds the viewer that you may not always know what someone is going through. Calling the film an identity piece is an “injustice to how interesting this content is,” Tibbenham said. That content, about what it means to be a woman today, under pressure for society and peers, is important. “Inhuman” puts a novel spin on commonly used themes, a refreshing take on genres which can often feel limp.