Tiny Cinema had its international première at FrightFest 2022
Tyler Cornack knows his way around a short film more than most. For since 2016 he has directed, co-written and starred in three seasons (and some 84 episodes) of the web series Tiny Cinema which he created with Ryan Koch. These comic vignettes are ‘tiny’ not just because of their extremely short format (each episode in the series is typically a minute in length), but because they put the peculiar, often perverse minutiae of human existence under the microscope. Cornack expanded his suggestive Tiny Cinema sketch Butt Boy (2016) into a gloriously improbable full feature in 2019, exploring every conceivable nook and cranny of the colon-crazed concept to hilariously gross effect in what becomes a probing study of midlife crisis. And now, co-writing with Koch and William Morean, Cornack has made a feature-length anthology called Tiny Cinema, whose six parts are each up to 15 minutes in length, offering a mosaic of humanity’s stranger urges and aberrations.
These all take place in Florida’s fictional Kritika County. A diminutive, wheelchair-bound, silver-haired man (Paul Ford) admits that he is a “pretty weird choice for a host”, even though he is also “a sneaky little bad boy rolling around town”, and sure enough, as he introduces, narrates and even – impossibly – invades the film’s different episodes, he cuts an uncannily omniscient, omnipresent figure, as a story-telling god whom nobody (but us) ever seems to notice. The first chapter, Game Night, provides a neat bridge from Butt Boy, in that it too features a middle-aged married man, Bert Thompson (Austin Lewis), suddenly suffering a breakdown that destroys his cosy suburban life. The immediate cause of this existential crisis – an over-literal reading of a harmless phrase heard during a game of Twister – will align it with the film’s fifth chapter, Motherfuckers (expanded from Cornack’s 2017 short MotherF*cker), where once again a casually joking phrase is taken with absurd, increasingly uncomfortable literalness, and with unexpectedly Oedipal consequences. This mother-son gender dynamic is inverted in the sixth chapter, Daddy’s Home, where a serially dating woman (Kristina Clifford) has dinner with the seemingly well-matched Sam (Sam Landers), but is really just looking for someone to replace her dear departed father.
In fact all but the first episode deal with matters of a sexual nature. The second, Edna, implausibly remixes elements from Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik 2 (1991), Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985) and Anthony Minghella’s Truly Madly Deeply (1990) to show a lonely woman (Olivia Herman) first falling in love with a corpse that she finds dumped in the river, then bringing it back to life, and finally discovering that she prefers loneliness after all. “Why are you doing this?” asks store clerk at the beginning of the third chapter, as three masked-and-armed men hold up his bottle shop as if it were a bank. The rest of this section will find a most unlikely answer to his question, as the three men (Kyle Lewis, Matt Rasku, Khaliel Abdelrahmi) test the limits of their friendship, and hit the spot for an unexpected yet truly satisfying double-meaning in the chapter’s title, Bust!. The title of the fourth chapter, Deep Impact, also involves a very funny piece of innuendo, as moped-riding delivery guy Vick Ward (played by McCormack) encounters a decrepit old man (Kevin Michael Moran, manically channeling a loucher version of Back to the Future-era Christopher Lloyd) who claims both that he is Vick’s older self from the future, and that the pair of them must quickly engage in an erotic transfer of fluids together in order to avert a world-destroying meteor.
“This is the kind of place that is gonna make you feel uncomfortable, I can promise you that,” says the Host in his introduction to Tiny Cinema, addressing the camera from the liminal shadows in front of a non-descript garage door. “You may laugh. You may get offended. Don’t worry. That’s the whole fucking point.” Anthologies can be a hard thing to carry off, owing to their ingrained bittiness. Yet Cornack has found the perfect balance of narrative variety and tonal consistency. For while these stories flirt variously with sci-fi, or horror, or the tropes of mobster or heist flicks, what unifies them – beyond their shared location and the Host’s occasional interventions – is that they are all weird, witty and utterly wrong.
strap: Tyler Cornack’s darkly comic six-part anthology reveals human existence in microcosm as something wittily weird and wrong
© Anton Bitel