Lenora, a young girl, wakes up excited to bake her father his favorite cake on his birthday. As Lenora bakes, she notices strange behavior from Mom. Meanwhile, Dad isn't home yet and it's growing late...
October 1, 2016
Vanessa Ionta Wright
Directed by Vanessa Ionta Wright and written by Samantha Kolesnik, I Baked Him a Cake is an emotional story, centered around sad inevitability rather than shocking revelation. This five minute short film tells the story of a little girl named Lenora, (Lillian Gray), who is excited to throw her father a birthday party. Her mother, (the actress formerly known as Fleece), is less interested in the festivities. She is more concerned with dragging bagged objects to her car, and expunging the bathroom of blood. Bet you can guess where this is going. Big surprise. Daddy never shows up for his party.
This is classic Stephen King brand horror. The monster is straightforward, and familial. The point-of-view character is a child. The drama comes from a universal place: loss of innocence. The mother even explains the horror in the bathroom as “that time of the month”. Throw in a little telekinesis, and it’s 1976 all over again. Which is not damning I Baked Him a Cake with faint praise. Just a little context. Truth be told, this short film is wonderful.
The secret to its success is child actress Lillian Gray. Although some of her line deliveries come off flat and rehearsed, you can see the wheels turning behind her big, naive eyes. Lenora is too young to fully understand what nefarious deeds her mother is up to, but she is old enough to be scarred for life. Gray captures the confusion, denial, trauma, all in a single look. Her vulnerability makes the final scene impactful, when the titularity of the title is put on full, ironic display.
Fleece is compelling as the mother, with her dead eyes and robotic actions. There is an entire history of domestic abuse captured in her subtext, although not much above surface level dourness. The short film format has its limitations. Too much of the backstory is meant to be filled in by the audience. A lack of organic humor also stops the work from delivering its full punch. The mother disposing of a severed head, paralleled with Lenora cracking eggs to make her father’s birthday cake, should be funny. At the very least, cognizant of the gallows humor. But the music, editing, lighting are so focused on a po-faced, Bildungsroman tone, that you’re left a bit bewildered. How am I supposed to feel?
But there’s no denying there is an artistry here, or at least aesthetic mastery. Cinematographer Henrik A. Meyer creates a foreboding, Andrew Wyeth Americana look. The grey tones feel musty, like disintegrated insects, and the browns are as worn as cowboy boots. Wright’s direction is unobtrusive but confident, showing a maturity sometimes lacking in young directors. You can follow the distribution progress of the short horror film I Baked Him a Cake on Facebook and Twitter @ibakedhimacake.