There’s a Man in the Woods (2014)

I was only made aware of director Jacob Streilein’s short animated film a few weeks ago and I’m glad I sought it out and watched it. It’s a genuinely eerie and creepy exploration of folklore, and ]at what happens when false rumors are spread, and hysteria grips an entire community.

The four minute short revolves around an elementary school teacher whose life was ruined after a bratty kid named Sid spread fake rumors of a scary, potentially murderous man in the woods. Failing to act on his accusations, the skeptical teacher loses his job and his entire livelihood.

The animation from director and California Institute of the Arts student Jacob Streilein is marvelous providing the right balance of suspense to feel like a fever dream. In many ways, Streilein’s short looks appetizing to a younger audience, but his aim for incredibly adult ideas about the effect small town hysteria can and have and how quickly it can take life like a literal wildfire. You can easily compare it to Aesop’s iconic fable, and the more chaotic the tale becomes, the faster the narrator steamrolls through the heinous fallout from the hideous false accusations.

It also forces you to ask who—or what—the actual villain of the piece is as we reach the culmination of the events we’d witnessed. Jacob Streilein’s short really does emphasize how simple finger pointing and hysteria can absolutely destroy lives, and I have to see more of what director Streilein is capable of. The movie utilizes the four minutes beautifully, but I hope we get to see what Streilein can pull off with a larger, more robust screen time and room to play.