I strongly recommend watching U.K. horror short Hungry Joe on an empty stomach. Codirectors/cowriters Samuel Dawe and Paul Holbrook pull no punches in their 23-minute meeting of body horror and family drama, a tale of a child’s insatiable appetite and the trouble it brings to his family.
As the short film begins, Craig (Joe Sims) and Laura Gilligan (Laura Bayston) are a happy young couple starting their married lives together, thrilled to be expecting a baby boy they name Joe. From birth, Joe has a troubling eating disorder; he eats almost constantly during his waking hours. Medical practitioners and government health care employees consider Joe’s habit to be something that Laura should encourage and indulge as he grows from toddler to teen, despite the mother’s increasing frustration that sends her down the dark path of depression.
Joe (portrayed by Andrew Greaves when the character is in his teen years) is a single-minded creature of pure id, interested only in consuming larger and larger quantities of food — table manners and social niceties be damned — and apathetic toward everything else, including his relationship with his mother, who does everything she can to feed him despite the enormous physical and mental toll this takes on her. With no one understanding her plight, and her husband long gone, Laura is driven to desperate measures.
Hungry Joe is not for the weak of heart or faint of stomach. Dawe and Holbrook pile on the body horror and gluttony grossness — all instances of which look disturbingly impressive — but this is not shock for shock’s sake. At the core of the story is Laura’s journey from happy young wife expecting her first baby to a physically and emotionally worn-out husk of her former self. Bayston is brilliant and heartbreaking in this role, and her performance is reason enough to seek out this short. Dawe and Holbrook know how to write and direct gripping familial drama and strong characterization as well as chilling fright fare, and they balance those elements splendidly here.(4.5 / 5)
Hungry Joe won Director’s Prize for Overall Cinematic Achievement at FilmQuest 2020, which took place online and at The Velour in Provo, Utah, from May 21–29, 2021.