If I describe Huntress Janos’ 2018 CalArts film Upside Downtown as a proof of concept, it’s only because it sets up its world so fully that I want to see more. The premise is a little absurd: one day, without warning, the Earth’s gravity reverses. Most of the population instantly launches into space — along with most of the wildlife, water, and pretty much anything else that wasn’t either indoors or firmly anchored to the crust. Absurd doesn’t mean silly, though, and Janos takes that premise for all it’s worth.
The film uses a mish-mash of styles to create its world, with simplified CG backdrops, hand-drawn characters, and photo manipulations all finding a place in the unique aesthetic. The bright, almost garish colour schemes give Upside Downtown just enough of an otherworldly feel that it’s easy to buy into its unlikely apocalypse. Not that suspension of disbelief is too much of an issue in this case. Janos’ direction is just as energetic as their design sense, and the film sweeps you up so quickly that by the time you start really asking questions, the film is, too.
The ending raises as many questions as it answers, setting the stage for a larger-scale mystery that goes beyond the survivalist scavenging of this short. Unfortunately for now, it doesn’t look like that wider world has materialized. Still, sometimes it’s nice to get a taste of an intriguing world and leave it at that. Upside Downtown sets up its world beautifully, and the rest is up to your imagination.
dir: Huntress Janos
syn: One day, gravity is reversed. Your whole world, turned upside down. The oceans lifting to the skies. This was my nightmare. My fantasy as a child, but in this short- a majority of humanity is lost forever to space. Few remain in the world after the flip, and they risk their lives scavenging to find food and water in order to survive in a topsy turvy city.
Bonus pick: An experimental, non-narrative CG animation, Janos’ earlier student work Anti-singular, couldn’t be more different from Upside Downtown. Described by Janos as “A film about self reflection and transformation,” it’s a short but soothing introspective journey.