Pappy’s World (2018)
It is Christmas, and while her Grandpa (Fred Polone), an Uncle Remus figure with fake grey beard and tattered straw hat, lies snoring in a chair, a girl (Jaz Frazier) uses his cane to reach the forbidden wrapped box at the top of a teetering pile of presents. Inside she finds Pappy (voiced by Polone), a doll whose white beard and black skin mark him as somewhere between Santa Claus and Grandpa(ppy). “How’s about tickle me,” the doll says, like some deranged Elmo doll – but, for all that Elmo is a monster, he is also a child, whereas Pappy, though tiny, is disturbingly adult.
Co-written with Polone, Pappy’s World is a short by Matt Wisniewski, and compresses into its brief nine minutes plenty of killer doll action, Second World War flashbacks, multiple decapitations, plastic whoring and vicious pie eating, all played out with lo-fi model effects and makeshift production design within the confines of Grandpa’s home – and quite possibly in his sleepy, dreaming head.
Pappy is “here to collect”, leading to a struggle over the girl – a struggle between Grandpa and Pappy that reflects both a trauma from Grandpa’s military youth, and an illicit desire. Shot by Pat Depuy in the lurid greens, reds and blues of Christmas lights, this is an expressionist, kaleidoscopic nightmare in which one man’s inner conflicts take on surreal, titillating form.
Based on characters from the Smokin’ Black Tar Band, Pappy’s World leaves the viewer with a lot to unpack, but is so unsettling beneath all its puppetry and play that you might after all prefer not to look too hard beneath its cutesy wrapping.
© Anton Bitel