A dark journey into the mind of a man increasingly obsessed with the desire to be eaten by either animals or monsters, the Belgian horror short Maw (Muil) is a fascinating, unsettling psychological shocker that aims for an artistic approach rather than focusing on the lurid.
Matthieu Sys stars as Richard, a lonely elderly-care assistant who spends his off-hours consumed by looking at images of animals, real and imagined, with their mouths wide open or devouring people. He meets a stranger named Max (Pascal Maetens) who shares his fantasies, and proves to Richard that he can make those fantasies a reality — for a price. Afraid to take that final step, Richard hires a prostitute (Myrthe Kramer as Ines) to try and play out his desires, but when this idea falls short, he decides to seek out Max once again.
Writer/director Jasper Vrancken manages to unnerve without showing any overt acts of violence or strongly graphic images. With a basement and its blood-soaked walls, images such as the open mouth of a hippopotamus, and the sound of a woman grunting like a wild animal, he plants enough visual and sound cues to get under the skin of viewers and then lets the focus on Richard’s troubled mind do the rest. Sys is captivating as a caring man at work but distraught loner at home. In a stirring scene with Kramer, his simple, slight change of facial expression speaks volumes without a word being uttered. Maetens gives a fine turn as someone who empathizes with the protagonist’s pain and his desire for a highly unusual sort of pleasure.
Vrancken has crafted a creepy horror film without a villain, on-screen violence, or jump scares. This is true psychological horror, with body horror and other elements at play. Hyun De Grande’s striking cinematography finds beauty in ugliness.
Maw picked up the Best Foreign Short Award at FilmQuest at the Covey Center for the Arts and Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo, Utah, during the film festival’s September 8–16 run.
(4 / 5)