Every human body is marked by cultural norms and social practices external to them. What varies is the extent to which technology is embedded in these systems — and the ways in which bodies and selves are subject to class and other inequalities.
Denervation is set in a society that believes that beauty cannot exist without youth. An “affective capital” arises, attaching to and amplifying existing social hierarchies when an exclusive med-spa thrives in an industry town from which its primary beauty product, Botox, is sourced. Working in a regulatory blind spot and driven by high demand, counterfeiters produce an unauthorized surfeit of the product. The resulting proliferation has made its deadly source, Botulinum toxin A, easily available, causing a series of airborne botulism outbreaks.

Using the town’s plaza space to play out the repercussions, Denervation dramatizes the impact of this unsecured supply chain, giving us a glimpse of the lives of the town’s residents. It aims to demonstrate how the most valuable commodity isn’t the counterfeit product or the final end-user, but an oft-overlooked one: the air we breathe, the very basis of our survival.

Credits / Collaborators / Cast

Written & Directed: Joshua Ashish Dawson

Producers: Ashton Rae; Ian McClellan

Cinematographer: Ashton Rae

Costume & Mask Design: Saori Mitome

Sound Design: Ankur Agrawal

CGI & World-Building: Joshua Ashish Dawson

Original Score: Russell Henson

Associate Producer: Kira Wojack

Poster Designed by Mario Pegas

The story behind the film

While the narrative is influenced by a variety of academic texts and artworks, Denervation extrapolates a fictional future based on a Scientific American article called “Fake Botox: Real Threat” published in June 2010 by Ken Coleman and Raymond A. Zilinskas, that details the illegal drug market and its potential threats. Dana Berkowitz’s book, Botox Nation, which examines how norms about bodies, gender, and aging are constructed and reproduced on both cultural and individual levels. Other sources of inspiration for the world of Denervation include the philosophical writing of Peter Sloterdijk’s spheres series.

The independently-funded short film was scheduled to go into production the final week of April 2020. The global pandemic suspended the production indefinitely, but it also offered a “real-time” critique of the film’s imagined systemic repercussions caused by similar microbiological errors under regulatory oversight.

We switched to a fully CGI format and built the entire world in Maya over quarantine.


Genre: Sci-Fi
Country: USA
Language: English
Length in minutes: 5:44
YEAR: 2021