“Whether or not it kills you is beside the point. Are you going to listen to me, or will you do something smart for once? If you’re here, you already know the answer.”

A disheartened and disillusioned trans masc, Ven (Graham-Howard), sits at a desk in a dank, gritty basement surrounded by boxes and disarray, a visual iteration of the sorry state of their headspace.

The above ominous message stares back at Ven from the computer screen before them. They are alone, dejected, overcome with dissatisfaction in life and grasping for some sort of relief, some glimmer of hope amidst their pain and suffering. Desperation drips from their moist skin as they cling to a mysterious package labelled ‘Midwest Supplements’.

The words onscreen are soon replaced by Gnovia (Bernhard), the face of the computer program whose goading, berating voice coaxes Ven into making a life-altering decision: ingest the foreboding pills contained within and await your fate. Ven’s only hesitance, their remaining anchor to reality, is a pet cat and a tiny shred of curiosity about what else life might bring.

But Gnovia functions as a digital devil on their shoulder, whose dark words and promises of a ‘new dimension’ are too provoking to pass on; Ven empties the entirety of the plastic wrap packet of dark pills into their mouth. 

The scene is temporarily interrupted, frozen on screen as external eyes review it. Two employees evaluate Ven (and presumably other subjects) from a brightly lit warehouse space, discussing their trajectory and revealing the inner workings of an opportunistic, manipulative company. This is only one of many experiences with these transformative pills that their recordings have captured, feeding into an escapist cycle of destruction and creation. Reality itself is a hard pill to swallow.

Jessi Gaston’s dystopic debut short is certainly an intriguing one, and it bears thematic markings of dark voyeurism and technological body horror evocative of Cronenbergian works. The familiar slippage in control over one’s identity and sense of humanity is invariably tied to the physical body, twisted into a fantastical abstraction through jarring mutation and the wonderfully abject melding of the organic and the technological, all set against a warping, squelching techno soundscape.

If you missed Black Pill’s premiere at Inside Out Toronto in October, now’s your chance to catch it at San Francisco’s upcoming virtual film festival, Another Hole in the Head, December 11th – 27th, 2020.

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Jessi Gaston
PRODUCERS: Harley Foos, Quinn Nicholson
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Eugene Sun Park, Erica Duffy
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Jason Chiu
STARRING: Avery Graham-Howard, Madeline Bernhard, Debo Balogun, Bella Wholey, Noah Berman, Gianna Mcgloon
GENRE: Horror/Sci-Fi
DURATION: 11 min