A married college professor believes he is meeting a student for an illicit late night hookup, but is actually being lured into a dangerous trap.

Director Christian Cuevas delves into the dark underbelly of societal perceptions surrounding aging, gender dynamics, and danger in his horror short film, “From Dust.” The story revolves around a married college professor, portrayed by Ben Livingston (known for his roles in “The Knick,” “Mr. Robot,” and “Only Murders In The Building”), who believes he is embarking on a clandestine late-night rendezvous with a student. However, as the plot unfolds, it becomes evident that he is being lured into a perilous trap that challenges his assumptions and forces him to confront the horrors that lie beneath the surface.

Cuevas draws inspiration from various cinematic influences, including the femme fatale thrillers of the early 90s, the unsettling and visceral storytelling of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, and the iconic noir starlets of Hollywood’s golden era, such as Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner. This fusion of influences infuses “From Dust” with a distinctive visual and narrative style that not only shocks and entertains but also sparks deeper conversations about the complexities of aging and the stark differences in how it is perceived across genders.

“From Dust” serves as a chilling and thought-provoking exploration of societal norms, gender roles, and the ominous territories that lie beyond the surface of our everyday lives. Through its horror lens, the film challenges preconceptions and confronts viewers with the disquieting realization that sometimes the most terrifying horrors are not supernatural, but deeply rooted in our understanding of the world.

What inspired the concept of a married college professor falling into a dangerous trap in this horror short film?

College campuses have been such a central focus of public attention in recent years, especially in America. The professor/student dynamic is so unique and rife with opportunities to create conflict. Because my story deals with aging, it is a very natural way to bring two characters together with a large age difference and a skewed power dynamic.

How did you approach building suspense and tension throughout the film? Were there any specific techniques or references you drew upon?

I didn’t make any specific references, although Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is omnipresent in the back of my head. Something I always seek to do in my stories is to create a twist that is both unexpected yet inevitable, and wrap that twist around a philosophical conflict in which both sides can make salient points. The real world issues being discussed set the viewer on edge, and the twist resolves the conflict in a way that catches the viewer off guard.

I also wanted to be very intentional about visualizing the power dynamic between the two main characters. At the start of the story Ben Livingston’s character is very much in charge, and is framed in a way that emphasizes his size and dominance. As the story progresses they level off, and by the end Helen Laser’s character dominates him from above.

“From Dust” stars Ben Livingston and Helen Laser. What made them the perfect choices for the roles of the married college professor and the mysterious student?

Helen and Ben are both very talented and dynamic actors. Casting them was a situation where they walked into the audition and immediately matched my vision for the characters. I could see the characters in them already, and they worked hard to get inside the minds of the characters and bring them all the way to life.

Could you share any memorable or challenging moments during the production of “From Dust”?

We were shooting in the smallest apartment ever. In every shot you can be sure there was a pile of stuff just off the frame. Going from setup to setup was like solving a puzzle box as we reorganized the crew and contents of the apartment each time. The apartment was an absolutely perfect location for the film though so it was worth the hassle.

What were your main goals in terms of storytelling and conveying a sense of horror in this short film?

I treated the film more as suspense than horror. I wanted to build up a ton of tension around a very grounded story with real world implications, and then deliver a shock with a horrifying and supernatural twist that would feel totally unexpected in the moment, but inevitable in hindsight.

What do you hope the audience will take away from watching “From Dust”? Is there a particular message or emotion you aim to evoke?

My intention as a filmmaker has never been to deliver concrete messages. I believe films should give people something to think about, not tell them what to think. I hope this film will inspire conversation, debate, and exchange of perspectives. Aging is a fascinating phenomenon that is unique in that its effects are exactly the same for everyone on one level, but totally unique to each individual on the other.

Are there any specific films that inspired the visual tone of this film?

I was inspired by 80s/90s femme fatale thrillers like Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction, as well as older films like Gilda and Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner’s respective performances in those films were particularly influential when writing Helen Laser’s character.

What are your favorite short films?

I need to watch more shorts, but one that’s been stuck in my head recently is Anaconda by Joshua Amar.