A clever spin on abstract animation, Sweater gives its director an excuse to indulge in the medium's affinity for swirling patterns, vivid colours, and kaleidoscopic arrangements, with some relateable slapstick added as a framing device
This week's selection is meant to be a bit of a reprieve from the heavier tone of the last few Monday Shorts selections. Those ones were rooted in some pretty dark terrain, tackling depression, death, and AI run amok. Zilai Feng's Sweater, on the other hand, is a bright, colourful, two-minute selection about a guy who gets his head stuck in his sleeve. Lighter, right?
That is, until you read the short story that inspired Feng's short. Julio Cortazar's "Don't You Blame Anyone" isn't a conventional horror story, but it is unsettling. It follows pretty much the same beats as Feng's, with a few key exceptions. Without having read Cortazar's story, Sweater feels like a clever spin on abstract animation, an excuse to indulge in the medium's affinity for swirling patterns, vivid colours, and kaleidoscopic arrangements, with a bit of relateable slapstick added as a framing device. With the story, it's hard not to see it as something a little more sinister.
That would be in keeping with Feng's other animation. Her CalArts film Nowhere Man is very much in that vein of weird horror, leaning into the uncanny with its looping structure and ambiguous storytelling. It also shows that Feng is more than capable of creating a mood of apprehension, where the cartoony sound effects and Justin Yau's expressive score set Sweater solidly in the world of whimsy.
All of which goes to show: tone is an incredibly powerful tool. The same story can have a profoundly different impact depending how it's told. Especially when you're dealing with absurdity, the line between funny and frightening can be incredibly fine. And it also shows the power of inspiration—how the same idea can be repurposed to massively different effects. There's a reason copyright protects expressions and not ideas, and it's to allow for exactly this type of transformative creativity.
But, as we said at the start of this entry, the whole goal this week was something more light-hearted. So maybe we should do a better job of enjoying it for what it is: a film about a guy with his head stuck in a sweater.