The Stomach (2014)

First published by TwitchFilm

[mild spoilers]

“I just want to be empty,” Frank (Simon Meacock) tells his brother Tom (Ben Bishop).

Wide-eyed, bearded Frank is at breaking point. Thanks to his freakish ability to become impregnated with the spirits of the deceased, he was born a medium between the living and the dead. As paying clients put their lips to his mouth tube and a stethoscope to his distended belly, Frank serves as their human telephone, receiving and transmitting messages from the other side.

Yet for Frank this uncanny gift is more like a curse, and he is increasingly desperate to use his half of the accumulated profits to have his stomach surgically removed so that he can start living his own life. First, though, he must be the unwilling conduit for gangster Raymond Pope (Peter Marinker), Raymond’s late brother David, and the bad blood still flowing between them.

Bad blood and brotherly betrayal are the thematic glue of Ben Steiner’s short film The Stomach, currently gathering awards on the festival circuit. Tom and Frank’s fractious fraternal relationship runs parallel to Raymond and David’s, in a narrative that keep switching worlds – and genres.

The grimy naturalism of the modest two-up two-down from which Frank and Tom operate is offset by the supernatural goings-on within, while Raymond’s gangland dealings with his brother’s three-timing ex Gloria (Kiki Kendrick) and thuggish cutthroat Charlie (Neil Newbon) suggest a cockney crime flick, while making strange contact with the grotesque body horror of Frank’s necromancy.

Steiner pinpoints the meeting place where infernal and criminal underworlds can briefly, fatally intersect, as the missing gun sought so desperately by Raymond emerges from its irrational hiding place to deliver an asymmetric revenge that gives Frank exactly what he wants while leaving no one satisfied.

This truly gutsy original marks Steiner out as a filmmaker to watch.

Anton Bitel