Pranking the Audience: A Review of Dash Shaw's "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea"
"My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea" is a comic, surreal venture into the mind of Dash, a high school journalist with limitless stories and zero readers. A misfit at school, Dash has been ostracized from his peers for his ovebearing personality and exaggerated articles. There seems to be no hope of acceptance for Dash until, while snooping through the school's archives, he discovers a secret that could make him a hero.
Tides High has reached a breaking point. While warring social groups erode the school's psychological foundation, its rotting floors and infrascture threaten literal collapse. Yep, this place has some serious building code violations; one small tremor could send it sliding straight into the sea. Dash tries to warn his peers about the danger, and what follows is a harrowing, epic tale of death, love, and sacrifice!
At least, that is what Dash wants us to believe.
This film is a classic exercise in unreliable storytelling. Shaw's zany, 75-minute rollercoaster hurls viewers from one oddity to the next. There are sharks, fires, post-apocalyptic gangs, and superhuman lunch ladies. Each encounter is more absurd than the last, and Shaw's crude, playful art style makes us believe that, in his world, all we see is true. This is an animated film, after all. Anything is possible!
The genius of this film lies in its ability to deceive. Beneath Shaw's sophmoric humor and criticism of teenage hierarchies, a subtler joke is being told. Dash escapes his watery hell but, strangely, comes under fire for exaggeration when he publishes a story on the event. Dash and his friends have survived an ordeal that defies reality: a crisis with multiple survivors and televised news coverage. How could Dash find words to inflate such a bizarre story? How could anyone deny the authenticity his experience?
Unless, of course, he made the whole thing up.
In a word, "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea" is a fiction within a fiction: a fantasy told twice to both us, Shaw's audience, and to the film's characters. Is it any coincidence that both the director and protagonist are named Dash? Mr. Shaw is a true pransker, duping viewers by playing on our presumption that the events in an animated film, while separate from our own reality, must at least be true to the world on screen. His comedy might lack the elegance of Ocelot, Moore, or other indie animators, but it is a creative farce worthy of its genre and well worth the watch!
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© 2019 Evan Vernon