An impactful, expertly executed short film, “Kiddo” originates from a deeply personal place and will both shock and challenge you.
Recently debuting on Alter, the incredible YouTube channel devoted to curating the best in short-form genre content, Kiddo is a 15-minute short that demands your attention.
Kiddo is a challenging film to review because, in order to really delve into what makes it so powerful and effective, I have to provide major plot spoilers. This riveting gut-punch of a short is much more satisfying when you go in blind and let the film’s mysteries unravel for you.
Thus, I’m going to provide a two-part review. The first will remain entirely spoiler-free, offering just enough to hopefully entice you to check it out yourself. Then I hope you’ll come back and join the discussion about what makes this such a tantalizing treat.Spoiler-Free Review
The film opens with a lush overhead shot of a bus driving along the north England countryside. As the camera pulls to the bus interior, we close in on a sullen bus driver, clearly full of contempt for his young group of passengers. A boppy tune begins to play (the infectious IDIOT by Kitten Pyramid), and we pan to a group of jovial teens enjoying a jaunty sing-along, clearly full of excitement for their upcoming adventure. The only indication that something is amiss is the matching pink jumpsuit the teens all wear — something resembling prison garb.
As the camera continues to pan from the back to the front of the bus, we finally land on an older woman, wearing the same pink jumpsuit, looking anxious and forlorn.
Cut to a somber and oppressive family dinner scene where that same woman is seated at a table, still in her pink jumpsuit and wearing what appears to be a dog collar with the name ‘Kiddo’ on it, as the bus driver hands her a plate of freshly carved meat. She sourly refuses the offering, looking down at the plate with great unease.
Across from her sits a young man named Jasper, who we learn is joining the family business. A heavy sense of tension and dread hangs over the family gathering. Something is clearly not right.
We get plenty of clues early on as to what’s happening here, but it takes some time for the true horror of the situation to unfold.
We quickly cut back to Jasper sitting on the bus, seemingly filled with apprehension. Most of the teens have fallen asleep except for one sweet young girl who sneaks up to the front of the bus so she can sit next to Kiddo.
She cuddles up to the woman, expressing concern for Kiddo’s emotional state. Witnessing the exchange, Jasper snaps at the girl and demands she returns to her seat, leaving his Kiddo alone.
The driver scolds Jasper, reminding him that Kiddo is “one of them” and that he shouldn’t forget it. Still, Jasper affectionately smiles at Kiddo, and it’s clear he cares for her.
As the bus pulls up to its destination, it’s an ominous-looking, run-down building with a shabby banner on the side of the building that reads ‘Wonderland’ — though it looks like anything but. Jasper tells Kiddo to stay put as the teens are ordered to exit the bus. But the driver, Jasper’s father, insists Kiddo enter with the rest of the group, much to Jasper’s consternation.
What follows is a scene of nightmarish proportions that will shock and horrify, even if you’ve already prepared yourself for where it seems like this short is headed.
By the end, it’s hard not to appreciate the artistry on display here, resulting in a compelling and wickedly potent short that works on two levels, offering both surface scares and deeper, thought-provoking subtext.
Taking it at face value, it’s a damned disturbing slice of horror, full of atmospheric dread, that gets under your skin.
But this is also a short with purposeful intent, designed to make you think about real-world horrors and potentially question your own choices and moral compass. (See the spoiler-filled section below for more on this.)
Boasting stellar performances and a pitch-perfect original soundtrack, this well-shot, expertly executed short is exceedingly worthy of your time.Spoilers Ahead
Kiddo was written and directed by Brett Chapman and originally conceptualized/created by Scott Milligan as a multimedia extension of his experimental Britprog band KITTEN PYRAMID, in support of the band’s upcoming third album.
Milligan conceived Kitten Pyramid in 2010 with friend Tom Goodwin out of a sense of frustration with the limits of music in this world. He imagined music that ran the whole gamut of colors, styles, and emotions, from pop to prog, from the Earth to the sky.
The name of the band was derived from Milligan’s own journey to vegetarianism, as he began to be haunted by the arbitrariness of human carnivores. Why was it ok to eat a pig or a cow, but eating a cat or dog would be considered a monstrous act of cruelty? Why were some animals kept as pets, even becoming beloved members of the family, while others are valued for nothing more than their meat and subject to unimaginable abuse?
Milligan envisioned a ‘meat pyramid’ featured on a mixed grill menu. Suppose that meat were cat meat (a kitten pyramid)? What was really the difference?
As Milligan — still a meat eater at the time — began to ruminate on vegetarianism, he found himself deeply triggered one day while driving past a livestock lorry. He considered exploring the topic in greater depth with both an album dedicated to the topic and a companion film, both sharing the title of KIDDO.
‘Road hog’ was the first single from the album KIDDO, released in May 2022. It plays over the credits of the short film, offering a jarring but impactful juxtaposition of disturbing lyrics set to a sweet and melodic tune.
In the short film Kiddo — starring Lisa Howard, Lauren Patel, Paddy Stafford, and Toby Gaffney — we get an allegory for the worst elements of the meat industry.
We’re asked to think about the inherent hypocrisy of being both an animal lover and a meat eater, of looking at some animals as pets and others as food.
By centering around the gut-wrenching horror and heartbreak of betrayal between the titular character Kiddo and her adopted family, as she moves from companion to just another disposable pig being led to slaughter, it’s impossible not to feel some anguish and a pang of guilt as a meat eater.
By anthropomorphizing the pigs into people, primarily young people, we’re forced as viewers to reconcile with the emotions shared by both humans and animals.
Because animals can’t speak, it’s easier to see them as “things” — a means to an end — rather than as complex living beings with feelings so similar to ours. But what if they could speak? What if they could so easily express joy, sadness, excitement, and fear in a way that echoed our own human experience? What if they could scream, cry, and beg for their life? Would it change how we looked at them… and how easily we looked away from them while they were abused and slaughtered?
Sadly, the answer might not be so clear-cut, given that humans en masse have a long history of dehumanizing other humans deemed to be different or less than others in any way.
Still, as individuals, most of us are more than capable of great empathy and compassion. We don’t eat meat because we’re heartless and enjoy the suffering of other living creatures. We simply choose not to think about it. Most of us don’t have to kill the meat we eat. We buy it pre-packed in a supermarket. We don’t have to look our food in the eyes or watch as life is snuffed from the animals we consume. We get to be blissfully oblivious to how that meat goes from the farm to the table.
Milligan knows that meat eaters aren’t monsters, and he’s not here to judge and shame.
Instead, he hopes to challenge us, force us to think about things from a different perspective, and face our choices head-on with open eyes.
Could we make the same choices if we had to see the consequences of our choices up close and personal? Many of us would not; we could not.
This is the kind of short that lingers with you long after the credits roll as you truly begin to unpack the film’s message and feel the weight of its impact.
It may not change you, but it’s almost certain to make you think. And it may just start you on a journey similar to the one Milligan himself took as you begin to think about why we do the things we do and how we value — or devalue — life in all its forms.