Erax is one of the short films from Netflix’s Emerging Filmmaker Initiative, which gives new directors a platform for genre stories. Hebru Brantley helms this kid-friendly horror-comedy that takes a charmingly lo-fi approach to visual effects, pitting a little girl and her auntie against some nasty puppets that seem lifted out of an ’80s movie that was lame at the time, but is a gem in the sphere of nostalgia.
ERAX: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The scene: one of those little free libraries you see in people’s yards. You know, take a book, leave a book. A car backs into it and knocks some of its contents on the ground. A flustered woman jumps out, grabs a big, strange looking volume and hustles away. She’s late for her niece’s birthday party – hours and hours late – and that’ll have to do for a well-past-the-last-second present.
That’s Opal (Jasmine Cephas Jones). “Better late than never” doesn’t quite satisfy her brother (Lance Gross), who’s been waiting for her and now is late for work. Same goes for little Nina (Genesis White), who’s giving her auntie the silent treatment. But as Auntie Opal braids her hair, at least Nina pages through the book. That weird book. The one that comes with ominous soundtrack cues and not only features animated illustrations, but also a rhyming story about how Auntie Opal was late for Nina’s birthday. And one of those illustrations shows Auntie Opal braiding little Nina’s hair. Curious.
It also has a picture of an hourglass, and funny little drawings of funny little goblins Donald Ducking around in vests and no pants. Suddenly, the lights go out. The goblins are no longer on the pages and the sands in the hourglass trickle down and the goblins are in the kitchen scarfing down food and scratching at Nina’s bedroom door. What happened, did someone feed one of those things after midnight? These guys are known as Erax, and they aren’t particularly nice. Opal and Nina try to run outside, but the doorway is papered over with layers of drawings that could be the storyboards for this very film. They tear one down and it’s an Erax planting his pointy teeth in Opal’s ankle and then, whaddayaknow, chomp. How are they gonna get rid of these scary little things? May I suggest shoving one into the microwave?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Ghoulies, Critters and/or Gremlins crossed with The Muppets and one of those youth-lit fantasy adaptations that were all the rage in a post-Harry Potter world – The Spiderwick Chronicles comes to mind.
Performance Worth Watching: Shout out to the puppeteers, who’ve clearly studied Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster closely.
Memorable Dialogue: “You wanna get fictional? Let’s get fictional!” – Auntie Opal throws down a threat to the Erax
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Brantley spins a few good laughs from this relatively simple premise, designing the half-pint Erax as a what-if-Gollum-was-on-Sesame-Street proposition. They’re threatening without being too scary, and far more funny than frightening. Question: Why do they wear little vests? Do they like heavy metal? Do they ride little motorcycles around whatever dimension they come from?
Erax hinges on the comical conceptualization of the monsters – and the heartfelt exchanges between White and Jones, which provides this 10-minute diversionary lark with a dash of substance among the silliness. It’s enjoyable, and there’s not much more to it than that.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Erax is a hoot.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.