In the midst of escaping an abusive relationship a woman finds the help of an unlikely stranger in an epic fever dream to find faith in herself again.

In Kristen Buckels’ short film “Otherside,” the gripping narrative unfolds amidst the tumult of escaping an abusive relationship, offering a potent blend of dark comedy and psychological thriller elements. The story follows a woman navigating the challenging journey to break free from the clutches of an abusive partner. In the midst of her struggle, an unlikely stranger becomes an unexpected ally in a surreal fever dream, propelling her towards a quest for self-faith and rediscovery.

“Otherside” emerges as a poignant exploration of the internal battles faced by survivors of abuse. Kristen Buckels’ directorial vision transforms personal pain into a cinematic journey of hope, faith, and self-discovery. The film stands as a testament to the resilience of those who navigate the difficult path to reclaim their identity and find strength in the face of adversity. Read our full interview below with Kristen.

“Otherside” is a dark comedy and psychological thriller based on real events from your life. Can you discuss what prompted you to turn this personal experience into a film and how the creative process helped you address the emotional impact of those events?

Otherside is something that started as an essay that I wrote just to process everything that had happened. It was then crammed into the bowels of my computer and I assumed I’d never touch it again. It wasn’t until years later that I pulled it out and turned the essay into a short film script. I also assumed that I would never shoot that but all of a sudden I was on set. Shooting the short was extremely empowering, it felt like a physical reimagining of what I went through only this time I felt fully in the driver’s seat surrounded by people who support me and love me. It was very cathartic.

The film’s title, “Otherside,” is intriguing. How does this title relate to the themes and narrative of the story?

The title for me is how “Paige” the character feels after waking up. On the Otherside of listening to yourself, what do you do with that information?

The film touches on the sensitive and important subject of escaping an abusive relationship. Can you share how you balanced the dark-comedy elements with the seriousness of the topic, and why this approach was important to you?

Some of my favorite films and shows are the ones that at face value are dealing with serious if not troubling subject matter but somehow you’re laughing. These are the stories that are real gut punches for me. My background is in comedy and when I’m writing in general, I lean comedy but the reason I got into film in the first place is because of films like “Winter’s Bone” (spoiler alert, not a comedy). Blending tonally serious with comedic dialogue and talented comedic performers is something I love to do. And really, I trusted that what felt good on set would blend in the edit and it did! Large in part to my editor, Jon Higgins, who is very talented and has an eye for this stuff.

The protagonist finds the help of an unlikely stranger in an epic fever dream. Could you elaborate on the role of this stranger and the dynamics between the two characters in the film?

Paige herself is the unlikely stranger as Joan, Claire and our drunk girl in the bathroom are all versions of Paige that live inside her. Joan being the hero that challenges Paige to stand up for herself. The dream is really a reckoning for Paige to see the physical manifestation of voices she has that have long gone unlistened to.

What message do you hope this story conveys to others who may have experienced similar situations?

Listen to yourself and trust yourself. And, you’re not alone.

The film’s tone combines elements of comedy and psychological thriller. How did you approach balancing these contrasting emotions to create a cohesive narrative?

While the dialogue is comedy leaning and the actors in the short are talented comedically the best way to personify Paige’s own internal struggles were through psychological thriller elements. It was less that I set out to make a psychological thriller and more that that happend to be the best tool to tell this story in an effective way. Once it was written and my DP, Stewart Cantrell, and I realized what it was, we had fun with shortlisting and coming up with ideas playing in the ‘psychological thriller’ landscape. I was so lucky to have him on set. It was the first time I was wearing that many hats and he really became the anchor of that short.

Sound and music can be powerful storytelling tools. How did you work with the sound team to create an auditory experience that enhances the viewer’s engagement with the film’s themes and emotions?

Creating the sound and score is one of my favorite parts of the process. I’m really lucky to have my composer John Merhrmann. John is one of the first people I send the script to and him and I will talk about what the movie sounds like and how to marry what’s happening on screen with the original music that he will create. It’s a lot of phone calls back and forth and John finding inspiration in grocery store parking lots after he’s stepped on glass and liked the sound (true story). He’s a magician.

Can you share any specific challenges or considerations you faced in translating your experiences into a compelling cinematic story?

OTHERSIDE is at its core a story of abuse based on my own experience but I didn’t want to create another dark story of a victim entrenched in suffering. It took me a longtime to find the approach with which to tell this story as I grappled with what element of my experience was the most important to show. One thing I kept returning to was the amount of times there was a version of me screaming to leave and how I’d left her ignored. I felt an immense amount of guilt for that and this story was really a way of honoring that piece of me, the part that tried to keep me safe. Once I saw things from that lens it was a lot of fun giving color and life to these voices that live inside me.

What’s coming up next for you? Do you have any interesting projects lined up?

I do! I’m currently taking out my feature “No Man’s Land” based on the short film I directed in 2021 written by myself and Lacey Jeka (Joan), gearing up to shoot my next short “Glory” and developing “Otherside” into a series. Stay tuned!

What are you favorite short films?

I have a couple but the first one that comes to mind is, “The Diamond” directed by Verdan Rupic. It’s genius. It was in the same category, “Freaks and Geeks” as my first short, “No Man’s Land’s” World Premiere at Palm Springs ShortsFest. I remember seeing it and going, “okay well if my short is in the same block as this one, I am HONORED!” Everyone should see it.