By Ashley Maniw (May 17th, 2018)
Directed by: Joëlle Arseneau
Written by: Joëlle Arseneau
Produced by: Joëlle Arseneau
Key Cast: Rose Adam, Elizabeth Tremblay-Gagnon, Maude Carmel, Audrey Roger
Gloria is an excellent short that confidently establishes its tone right from the start. The film centres on a group of friends in the late ‘80s. They’re getting together to perform a ritual renouncing love to become independent women who put their own pleasure first.
From the opening titles, you can tell that this short is going to be a throwback to horror films from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s easy to go hard, stylistically, in a film set in a different time, but Gloria avoids going overboard and the subtle approach makes it feel as if it's a lost gem from the time period. Director Joëlle Arseneau also uses lighting – the glow from an afternoon sun and luminous candles - to establish a sense of dread. Is this ritual really an innocent game or is it something that has more sinister intentions?
The production and visual style alone highlights Arseneau’s confidence, attention to detail and overall vision that make her short a success. And her writing is just as assured as her visual sense. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away because it’ll ruin the twist, but Gloria is more than just a retro-horror short.
Arseneau really nails female dynamics, especially between girls in high school. It’s a sharp look at friendships between young women and how men and love can get in the way. As the ritual starts to reach its peak, one of the girls isn’t sure that she’s willing to dump her boyfriend in the name of female empowerment, even though he’s cheated on her twice and she becomes a jerk around him. With goading from her friends, she goes through with it – even though the results are not what she’s lead to believe.
It’s exactly that kind of peer pressure that we’ve all experienced at one point, especially in high school. As teenagers, we usually go along with things rather than risk being ostracized by making our own decisions. While teens of every gender deal with this pressure, it’s a dynamic that is often most associated with women both in and out of high school. Female friendships can be tough. There’s both the desire to please and to rebel - to be friends with everyone and to also assert dominance over others. There are secrets, lies and backstabbing. Alliances and allegiances change. Sometimes your best friend can be your worst enemy and you don’t even know it. And in high school, there’s always someone that knows more than you; there are always classmates that are ahead of the curve and ones that are a little behind both academically and socially.
Because female relationships can be so complex, it’s rare that we get to see films that explore all the ups and downs and allows them to exist as is, without judgement. That’s why Gloria reminded me so much of films like The Craft or Mean Girls. They all depict teenage female friendships at their best and at their worst with petty jealousies and games. It’s not a dynamic that’s fun to live, but watching it play out in a film makes the story resonate.
Featuring great performances, a stylized production and a clever screenplay, Gloria showcases Areseneau’s artistry and talent. It establishes its theme and mood easily, without detracting from the story or performances, and hits at some relevant and universal themes regarding women and relationships. Plus, it clearly has a lot of fun while doing it. It’s a confident and astute short film that proves you don’t need to rely on jump scares to elicit a reaction from your audience. I can’t wait to see more from her.
- Ashley Maniw