“Bullying is a horrible thing. It sticks with you forever. It poisons you. But only if you let it.” That Zachary Oliver Brewer (born as Heather Brewer) knows what bullying does, is no surprise knowing that he grew up while facing it and that he’s now an anti-bullying and mental health awareness advocate. We’re pretty sure he would be proud of the newest Daniel Bydlowski (“Ay Love”, “The Ticket”) short film “Bullies”. The movie deals with the same emotional but necessary topics due to which it becomes a beautifully made film filled with humor but also one that doesn’t want to undermine the consequences of bullying. It’s the perfect balance between fiction and real life.
Being dropped off at school by his lovely mother and with a new comic book under the arm, everything seems to be right for Eugene (Kaden Hetherington), a shy 10-year-old boy. However, just as any other bullied child, he isn’t showing his pain to the entire world. Trying to sneak in the school as noiseless as possible, it doesn’t take long before he’s picked on again by his worst nightmare, bully Craig (Conrad Bluth): Being hit, being laughed at and being punched. It’s all happening and no one is doing anything to help out. Not even his best friend.
One day, life is about to change for Eugene in ways he never could have imagined. During another round of being bullied, he falls into a secret hidden underground place where he encounters some men (much older than him) who went through the same when they were his age. Being skeptical at first, Eugene is allowed to stay and soon, he’s having the time of his life. However, it comes to him that his mother is probably worrying sick about where he is and his mind is filling up with doubts. Will he make his way up again, face to bullies but be there for his mom or will he stay hidden and safe but knowing that his own mother will be sad and grieving?
It doesn’t matter whether you were the one who got bullied, the bully or just the friend who didn’t do anything, “Bullies” will bring back memories because thanks to the wonderful job of director Daniel Bydlowski there were elements of recognition. One of those is the hesitation, the fear and (social) anxiety Eugene is feeling while entering the school after his “I’m sick, I can’t go to school” excuse didn’t convince his mother. Another is seeing how Craig is dominating Eugene with his own power, that he granted to himself and with the whole class behind him. However, one small change could reveal a softer and more vulnerable side of Graig knowing that even the toughest bullies have a weak spot.
That Bydlowski is no newbie to making short films becomes really evident while watching “Bullies” as the movie can captivate us right from the start. One of the elements that contribute to that feeling is the score. While getting to know Eugene, the music is quiet, relaxing and calm but when he’s at school facing the bullies and the hard times, it becomes louder, more excited and thrilling. When Eugene finally meets people who had to go through the same as him, the score turns the movie in a happy, cheerful and jolly one (at least for some brief moments).
In a short film about social interaction and bullying, the chemistry between the characters needs to be precise and for most of “Bullies” that’s the case. Of course, the film focusses mostly on Eugene, whose strikingly portrayed by Kaden Hetherington (“Micah the Asshole Ghost”, “Bones”). Whether it’s as the scary, sad, repressed or the ecstatic, lively and overjoyed Eugene, Hetherington is beautiful in every role. Opposite him, we see Conrad Bluth (“I Love You?”, “Winterthorne”) as the bully, who’s determined to make Eugene his life a living hell. While there’s nothing wrong with the fine performance of Bluth, we would have loved to see a more ferocious, angry and bitter look on his face so that the bullying would become more real.
There’s also a comedy aspect to this film coming from the amusing foursome Michael Edwin (“True Detective”, “The Voice Within”), Stephen Holland (“Shut Eye”, “American Horror Story”), Weston Nathanson (“Great News”, “Magic Funhouse!”) and Fred Ornstein (“Undateable”, “Visible Scars”). While their characters are giving Eugene a new life, they remind us to Tweedledum and Tweedledee from “Alice in Wonderland” but then just twice as funny. Wonderful supporting performances are provided by Talton Browning as Eugene’s closest friend and Allison Lane (“Wild Nights with Emily”, “The Children of Hip Hop”) as the loving and caring mum.
It’s always important to make films about critical topics as they might help to solve the problem. The amount of bullying at schools should decrease because bullying can have disastrous consequences, especially in a modern society in which appearance and social media are more important than ever. With his short “Bullies”, Daniel Bydlowski made a witty, clever and also funny and beautiful film that handles the topic with a lot of respect and seriousness and shows that things should change soon.
Liselotte Vanophem, Film and Celebrity Reporter