Nosepicker (2023)

“If we can be brave enough to put our finger on what’s uncomfortable in our lives,” says school counsellor Mr Hopkins (Mark Garfield) in writer/director Ian Mantgani’s short film Nosepicker, “we can start to shed our uncomfortable skins, and move past them into a new phase. Become more of who we are supposed to be.”

Hopkins is speaking to eight-year-old Georgie Freeman (Leo Adoyeye), who has been brought to the counsellor by biology teacher Miss Poppy Barun (Abi Corbett). Georgie is different, and both are concerned about him, as is his mother Sarah (Bridgette Amofah). The focal point of his difference is a compulsive habit of openly picking his nose and placing the snot under his school desk. This ordinary yet antisocial practice makes him the object of vicious mockery and bullying from classmates who brand him “disgusting” and “slimy freak”.

Yet Georgie’s nosepicking is a symptom rather than the essence of his problem. Even more alarmingly, he has also stopped talking altogether, and does not utter a single word throughout the short. In the classroom, among his peers, this quiet mixed-race boy has become withdrawn – and given that this is a largely white environment, with his teacher, his counsellor and his tormentors all Caucasian, it is hard not to see his alienation in racial terms (Hopkins’ words “we can start to shed our uncomfortable skins” resonate with their own discomfort). 

Miss Barun and Mr Hopkins just want Georgie to conform to their white values and norms – and in a more complicated way, so does his Black mother, anxiously declaring to her husband (Simon Bubb): “I don’t want our son to be a freak.” Yet all their insistent interventions will just drive Georgie out of the open and into a greater furtiveness. For now he picks his nose in secret, gathering the issued materials into a gooey pile on his bedroom dresser. From this mucous mass, he will find a true expression of the self that he has been made to repress – and his vicarious vengeance will not be pretty. 

Nosepicker uses the tropes of horror – and in particular a mode of Eighties horror that is all practical effects and overt schlockiness – to show a young, withdrawn boy finally letting out what everyone has been telling him to keep inside. The (literal) bogeyman of the piece is a green-glowing, viscous blob that, while Georgie sleeps, fluidly converts the boy’s every unspoken revenge fantasy into a grotesque reality. This is horror of abjection, taking something that most viewers will find at least a little icky, and turning it into the transgressive vehicle of sweet little Georgie’s innermost id, as he, in keeping with his counsellor’s words, indeed proves brave enough to put his finger on what is uncomfortable in his life. 

strap: Ian Mantgani’s Eighties-inflected horror short puts otherness and abjection on (or under) the table through a literal bogeyman

© Anton Bitel