‘A Small Gathering’ by Ad Infinitum @ HOME – reviewed

Credit: Ad Infinitum, HOME Manchester

At least one image will stick with you from each of these three film shorts by Ad Infinitum, the Bristol-based theatre troupe creating work for HOME’s ‘Homemakers’ series. Because they’ve had to adapt, this is their first time working with film and it’s a good watch. You could do worse than going to the HOME website, paying what you want, and spending twenty minutes on ‘A Small Gathering’ (or any of the works by a range of artists that are now available).

‘Mr Pink’ sets the vibe and theme for the entire piece. A transformation takes place due to isolation madness – and we watch this mischievous face poke in and out of complete darkness, having been expertly wrapped in shadow. Most of the seven minutes is spent to-and-froing around the house, as well as simulating sex with his hands when he should be washing them, until the horror kicks in. They run through a disturbing mystery in the space of a minute, but it’s a good ending, and when they do get the lighting right it’s worth it for those images. Its capacity to make you laugh, unfortunately, is let down by silly gags and pantomime noises.

Credit: Ad Infinitum, HOME Manchester

But this dip into horror is actually where the three shorts work best. ‘Rewilding’, the second film, makes up for Mr Pink’s aimlessness with a creature that, whether part of our protagonist’s imagination or not, is a great combination of our irrational COVID-related fears and what we might imagine if we are left alone for too long. What we miss, however, are the visual tricks that made ‘Mr Pink’ worthwhile, and, again, the jokes come off like the videos your mum is probably forwarding to you on WhatsApp.

Credit: Ad Infinitum, HOME Manchester

Common phrases right now are “I’m actually doing fine” and “I’m going nuts”. The latter is usually half-joke, half-speculation. Ad Infinitum have taken this and run with it. With ‘Cynthia’s Party’, the third and best short, they incorporate the best parts of the first two films. Possibly an allusion to Mike Leigh’s famous play, the guests this time are dolls who look on as their host crumbles. As things escalate, the dolls come to life, and we wonder what’s more terrifying: that the dolls are alive, or that Cynthia is really the one going to all this trouble to move their heads.

We shouldn’t dismiss what Ad Infinitum have been able to create so quickly in these circumstances. While the COVID humour can be weak, their creepy motifs are inventive to varying degrees, and blend well with their playful style. Take the final few minutes of ‘Cynthia’s Party’ – this bizarre sequence is hopefully an indication of the quality any future video work will have, given more freedom and more time. A couple days later, when you are trying to be productive by having your weekly shower, an image from ‘A Small Gathering’ will return to you, and you will be touched lightly by a feeling of fondness.