Sometimes Amazon’s personalization so is scary precise, they practically ship the books before you order them. Still, the impact is limited and arguably mostly positive. However, online personalization could have more profound implications in a more immersive digital setting. Such is the case when an unhappily married mother meets her seemingly perfect match online. The question whether he is real or not becomes a consuming obsession in Grace Rowe’s short film The Sweetening (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Third Culture Korean American Film Festival New York.
Sadie lives in a post-Catfish world. The neglected mother of two agreed to beta-test a prospective virtual community just to pass the time. She understands online avatars are often very different from the flesh and blood people they represent. However, there is something about tall, dark Jack (or Daniel as he later calls himself) that really gets to her. After all, he is perfect for her, which is presumably why they were brought together, but that does not necessarily mean he is real.
Many films have addressed issues of digital identity and reality, but few have focused so relentlessly on the emotional repercussions. As screenwriter and lead actress, Rowe takes Sadie down a dark psychological path that some viewers might have trouble following. Yet, it gives the film unusual bite and some genuinely tragic heft. Reportedly, Rowe is developing Sweetening as a potential series, which could be truly fascinating television, if it picks up where the short film concludes.
Regardless, Sweetening is a remarkably accomplished showcase for Rowe’s talents on both sides of the camera. She also generates some real heat with Matt Houston as the mystery man/avatar. Like the under-appreciated Advantageous, it represents the sort of sensitive, relationship-driven speculative fiction that is often drowned-out and over-shadowed by more special effects-dominated fare. Recommended for mature audiences, The Sweetening screens as part of a free shorts program at KAFFNY this coming Saturday (10/15), at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. Readers can also get 15% off other tickets at the fest using the snappy promo code "jbspins15."