J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Sundance ’19: Chowboys (short)

That Old West wasn’t going to win itself. It needed an expansionist ideology, cannibalism, and killer Santa Clauses. Granted, this is Astron-6’s beyond revisionist take on the final days of the frontier, but it surely must be valid. A campfire story takes an outrageously macabre turn in Astron-6 (Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie, & Steven Kostanski)’s short film, Chowboys: An American Folktale, which screens as part of the Midnight shorts program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, in Park City.

It is Christmas Eve during the waning days of the frontier. Three cowpokes are sitting around their meager fire, while their hunger pains lead to hallucinations. The oldest and grizzliest will act as a peace-maker, sort of. He also has presents for his riding mates, as well as a macabre story about St. Nick, sort of like the Louis L’Amour version of Silent Night, Deadly Night. There will also be surprise guests—and not so surprising, gore.

Say it isn’t so. Chowboys is billed on the one-sheet as Astron-6’s final film. That is a shame, because their horror-mash-up-provocations are getting surprisingly smart, as well as gleefully bloody. Their Giallo send-up, The Editor, turned out to be more intense and legit than a lot of the films it was satirizing.

Basically, Chowboys is engaging with the wilderness horror tradition often associated with the Frontier era (think Donner Party here). However, the Astron-6 guys (acting and directing), keep giving it one outrageous twist after another.

Chowboys runs a mere nine-minutes, but in that time, Astron-6 totally runs amok and presumably gets all kinds of genre madness out of their systems. Frankly, it has to be a relatively short short, because it is just impossible to maintain this level of lunacy over an extended period of time. Highly recommended for cult movie fans, Chowboys: An American Folktale screens again tonight (1/26) and this Friday (2/1) in Park City, as well as this Saturday (2/2) in Salt Lake, as part of the Midnight shorts program at this year’s Sundance.

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