If writer/director Jessica Redish’s three-minute short film Airway is any indication, fear of flying remains alive and well, and empathetic too. Equal parts SNL skit as self-aware horror story, the short details a young woman’s increasing phobia of flying as she boards a plane headed to Rome, said fear only bolstered by the lack of contentiousness of the man seated next to her – continuing to text on his phone as the plane heads for takeoff.

The result of the latter’s indifference is a hilariously twisted, at times genuinely squirm-worthy meditation on anything from practical dangers to the pain of being inarticulate. Redish seems to take her deadpan, borderline traumatizing comedy zingers from a Pedro Almodovar, Federico Fellini, or Paolo Sorrentino. There’s a distinctly un-American observational wit to the whole affair, the plane’s destination being Rome anything but a straight coincidence.

Redish comes from a background in theater, and it shows. Technically one of Airway’s greatest strengths is its sense of scope. Most of the film is shot at wide angles with presumably an anamorphic lens, capturing the majority of the action within the cramped, tube-like structure of the plane without compromising a sense of growing claustrophobia and subsequent, existential insanity when it becomes chilling clear – or so it seems – the plane and its passengers are doomed from the get-go. This helped by the two leads’ performances – actor Andrew Carter appropriately hamming it up as the devil-may-care, could-not-be-bothered serial texter complete with TJ Miller afro and Hawaiian beach shirt wardrobe.

But it’s Jenna Rossman as his terrified seat mate who gives the piece some gravity and heart. She displays an impressive balance despite her character’s increasingly unhinged mentality as the turbulence both literally and metaphorically starts to kick in. She’s funny without being slapstick, and serious in equal measure without being overtly heavy. Add cast member Clayton Ferris to the mix as a homicidally deranged pilot and everything feels like it comes full-circle in the short as a solid, if somewhat mean-spirited parody especially relevant during this decidedly grim, holiday season.

Any film that effectively provides a so-called assault on the white picket fence, aka turning a normal environment into the setting for chaos requires specific, observational tendencies of said environment. With Airway, the plane and sterile nature of the airport itself seen briefly in the intro become supporting characters along with the rest of the cast. There’s something about the contrasting blue, carpeted floor with the pale white seats that’s captured in such a way the viewer already feels a nauseous sensation before any of the action comes into play.

This is helped when said action does come into play by way of Redish’s experimentation with contrasting colors, flashing red light when the passengers subsequently attack each other turning what initially felt like the beginning of Home for the Holidays into Profondo Rosso. The comedic and horror elements effortlessly wash over each other, and it’s this repeated subversion of expectation that keeps the viewer – however much they may be laughing – forever on the edge of their seat…

Alexander Marais, posted by Garth Thomas