How Migrant Farmers and ‘The Little Mermaid’ Inspired This Supernatural Horror Short

'Boniato' still courtesy of Sundance Institute

The best horror films don’t just give you gore and jump scares to spare – they grapple with real issues. That’s certainly the case in Boniato, the latest collaboration between Eric Mainade and the Meza brothers (Andres and Diego). The short film begins with the simple story of Elisia, a migrant worker who decides to leave the Florida farm where she works to go North and start anew. But very quickly, the film becomes a supernatural horror that has her fighting and running for her life. Think of it as a gory lovechild between Neil Marshall’s The Descent and Edward R. Murrow’s Harvest of Shame. As its tagline suggests, “Some borders aren’t meant to be crossed.”

Shot in just six days on a shoestring budget, the film is screening at Sundance as part of their Midnight Shorts Program. Its bloody action sequences in a creepy bunker under a Florida farm are sure to give you chills for days—we’re still reeling from a particularly vivid shot that involves a dangling eye-ball. If the action-packed fighting sequences between Elisia and the nameless, faceless creatures that so gleefully rip apart bodies and feast on inner organs feel particularly striking, it is because Mainade, a professional stunt man, recruited some help from his friends, (including stunt man Walter Garcia) who were busy working with Marvel on last summer’s Ant Man film.

With their short screening at Park City this week, Remezcla chatted with the three directors. Giddy at the fact that their collaboration had been accepted as part of this year’s Sundance lineup, they explained how they juggled working with one another and how a certain Disney film found itself at the heart of this bloody tale. Find some highlights below.

Boniato plays as part of the Midnight Shorts Program at the Sundance Film Festival

On Collaborating With One Another

“Working as a trio was a lot smoother than most people realize!”

Meza Brothers: It’s especially meaningful to experience these amazing career milestones with my best friend, who also happens to be my brother. We’ve collaborated in filmmaking since we found an interest in it as 10 and 11 year old kids. Over the years, we’ve learned to adapt each of our styles to suit the other, so working together has always been a very natural experience. We feel fortunate enough to be at the helm together – directing can be a very lonely experience where your decisions can make or break a movie. It’s great to be able to share our thoughts with each other and come up with decisions together.

Working with Eric has also been one of the most positively challenging experiences for us as well. He has such a high motor and attention to detail that has inspired us to incorporate into our directing style. We’ve definitely learned so much from him! And it was a pleasant surprise to see that working as a trio was a lot smoother than most people realize!

Still from ‘Boniato’
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On The Origin of Boniato

Eric: I came up with the concept one day driving to my farm. I lease like 12 acres down in South West Miami, and I grow a lot of guava. One day I was out there and I saw this guy sharpening a knife. And I had a little vision of this movie. Me and the Meza brothers had been talking for years about working on a story to collaborate on, and they’re horror junkies. And so we searched for something that we could make that wasn’t just an action movie and not just a horror movie, but something that could blend together. That’s how we got it going.

On Grounding The Horror In Reality

“These migrant workers are often forgotten and ignored in our society.”

Eric: I’m a professional stuntman, first and foremost. And a filmmaker. But I got into farming, and the past few years I’ve been farming and in the middle of these acres, in these fields, [where] you have this whole other world. These migrant workers. Nobody really realizes what goes on behind the suburbs, back in the fields.

Meza Brothers: These migrant workers are often forgotten and ignored in our society. We set out to shine a light on the daily struggle these people go through everyday as essentially the lifeline of our communities. There are real horrors they go though everyday and we wanted to represent that in an extreme high concept way.

On That The Little Mermaid Cameo

Eric: We found a lot of similarities between Ariel and Elisia. I mean, Ariel is obsessed with the surface world, just as these migrant workers dream of somewhere else. Also, the creatures themselves were based on a concept of a weird siren, or mermaid. We tried to play with these creatures—and we didn’t go as far with this in the short as we wanted—but the idea is that they’re some sort of evolved sirens that are now underground. And we also liked the idea of having some cool action sequences set to Disney music.