Malacostraca (2018)


To get their minds off some unspecified friction, a couple is sunbathing at a lakeside spot, when the half-asleep Chris (Charlie Pecoraro) sees a crayfish crawl to his slumbering wife Sophie (Amber Marie Bollinger), and in an impressionistic montage of critter POV shots and close-ups of Sophie’s aroused face (Cattet & Forzani-style), a monstrous sexual act between woman and shellfish is implied – if, that is, Chris is not merely sunstruck, dreaming or trying to come up with an idea. Chris is, after all, a frustrated author, and he has just scribbled in his notebooks a picture of a crustacean bursting out of a woman. 

This ambiguity lies at the heart of writer director Charles A. Pieper’s short film, named for the Malacostraca, literally ‘soft shells’, which are the class of large crustaceans that include crabs, lobsters, crayfish and shrimp. In this tale of a blocked writer and his greater commitment to his art than to his marriage, Chris tries to keep apart his artistic and his personal lives, even with Sophie now pregnant and bringing a baby into the world. Yet as Chris struggles simultaneously to negotiate his difficult relationship with the unwanted newborn that he suspects is not his own, and to find an ending for his novel, there will be a potentially tragic confusion of the author’s creative and procreative processes.  

All at once a grotesquely dark comedy, and a chitinous riff on David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), Malacostraca cracks open the thin shell separating paternity and authorship, revealing within a man who is (probably) a crazed failure as both novelist and father.

© Anton Bitel