Fantastic Fest 2023: Neil Ferron’s ‘Fishmonger’ is a Whirlwind Trip Through Genres and Emotions

Short films have an admirable punk rock aesthetic. Get in, make your point, and get the hell out. Neil Ferron’s Fishmonger says what it needs to say in fewer than 30 minutes, rolling through genres at an absurd pace until, when it ends, you’re not quite sure what you’ve seen.

But you’ll damned sure never forget it.

Miserable and misunderstood on an Irish island in the 19th century, Christie (Dominic Burgess) is in a quandary. His mother has been stricken with a terminal case of St. Moira’s Bloat, brought on by eating cheese products made from her own breast milk. She’s dying, and if Christie isn’t married when she passes, she’ll go straight to hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Christie’s attempts to save his mother from eternal damnation lead him to a perilous cove where something not quite human lurks. Christie enters into a horrific pact that may protect his mother from spending forever in the flames.

That sounds morbid, if not downright depressing, but there’s far more to Fishmonger than that synopsis implies.

Fishmonger is imbued with a delightfully absurdist, dark humor. Lighthearted moments wrap themselves around times of utter despair like a shawl around the shoulders of a frail loved one. Ferron’s choice to use black-and-white photography, combined with the skills of cinematographer Jack McDonald, makes Fishmonger look like a moving daguerreotype. Did I mention the musical number? Because there’s a musical number.

Also: there’s pus. Gobs of it, flying through the air from hideous ruptured lesions.

Ferron and his crew managed to combine all of these disparate elements into a dizzying short film, filled with joy, sadness, and a slab of terrible cheese. As much as one hopes for Fishmonger to be expanded into a feature-length film, there’s something to be said for the movie’s brevity. Urgent without being manic, Fishmonger is sleek and tidy, a through-line to its intended target: the viewer’s heart. From the log-line, this isn’t a movie one expects to be emotionally affecting.

It is.

Fishmonger is a monochrome love story horror movie musical soaked in mythology and more Catholic guilt than you can shake Stephen Colbert at, all in the span of 25 minutes. That’s an impressive feat, and one more people should be given the opportunity to see.

Fishmonger was presented at the 2023 Fantastic Fest on Sunday, September 24, 2023.

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