Tuesday, January 28

UCLA alum uses bright colors to explore dark themes in upcoming film

Alumna Mary Neely directed "Pink Trailer," which follows two best friends as they encounter a stranger and juxtaposes darker themes with a bright, technicolor aesthetic. The film will premiere Saturday at SXSW. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin)

Correction: The original version of the caption accompanying this article incorrectly stated Mary Neely wrote "Pink Trailer." In fact, Jenny Leiferman and Macey Isaacs wrote "Pink Trailer." The article also incorrectly stated that Neely directed "Pink Trailer" before directing the music video "Margaret."

This post was updated Mar. 8 at 4:30 p.m.

The film “Pink Trailer” transforms a simple knock on a door into a chilling occurrence.

Directed and edited by UCLA alumna Mary Neely, the female-led film follows two best friends as they encounter a terrifying stranger at their doorstep. “Pink Trailer,” set to premiere Saturday at the SXSW Film Festival, juxtaposes the darker themes of menacing neighbors and inner turmoil with brightly colored, vintage aesthetics, Neely said.

Neely used a similar technicolor ambiance in her work directing the music video “Margaret” by the band Pinky Pinky. The video involves scenes of makeup-clad young girls laughing in a pink bedroom, surrounded by fluffy toys and pink knick-knacks. In other scenes, an older woman spirals into a depression, with cooler colors used to highlight her psychological state.

“All of my photography obsessions and artist obsessions naturally led me to curating things based off of my own personal preference,” Neely said.

The shots in “Pink Trailer” feature a brightly lit room furnished with a millennial pink couch and curtains. Frilly dolls and shrubs sit on bedside tables while the girls lounge around the house, giggling in sweats and eating pink-frosted Pop Tarts. However, an ominous shadow at the door and the girls’ fear-stricken expressions create a stark contrast to the upbeat surroundings, Neely said.

Throughout the film, camera angles continuously close in on the main characters’ faces. Neely said she used increasingly close camera shots to emphasize the claustrophobic feeling of being cornered inside the house, despite the warm atmosphere the house exudes. The blurred shadow in the door’s glass symbolizes the pair’s fear of the unknown, heightening the stakes of the film by depicting contrasting visual themes of danger and happiness, said Shannon Looney, the producer of “Pink Trailer.” The sunlight streaming through the ornate stained glass of the door visually and symbolically slices through the menacing darkness of the shadow.

“I think the aesthetic was partly inspired by the space that we shot the film in,” Looney said. “The color palette and the vibe fit well with (Neely’s) vision.”

The contrasting aesthetics used in “Pink Trailer” also convey different stages of life, Neely said. The bright elements, such as the pink color scheme and the board game “Guess Who?,” bring to mind aspects of childhood and stand out against the set’s darker element.

Jeff Tomsic, who collaborated with Neely on a separate television series “Wacko Smacko,” said Neely’s sense of humor possesses a playful yet biting cynicism that shows through Neely’s self-deprecating jokes. She uses humor and positive aesthetics to make darker themes seem even more macabre by comparison, he said.


Neely said she often used humor to mask her internal issues as a child. When she was younger, Neely outwardly expressed her sense of humor in a goofy way – she said she even performed lively stand-up for her peers in elementary school. At the same time, Neely grappled with her tumultuous emotions and eventually developed her bubbly artistic aesthetic to serve as a way to express the two sides of her personality.

“The film includes themes (that connect to) the things that we concoct in our own heads,” Neely said. “I used my aesthetic to show these themes to their fullest extent.”

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