Bella In The Wych Elm (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_bellaBELLA IN THE WYCH ELM (2017) – Short

Directed by Thomas Lee Rutter
Cast: Lee Mark Jones, James Underwood, Traci Templer, James Taylor
Running time: 36 minutes
Distributed by Carnie Film Production.

In 1943 four young boys were out poaching illegally on the Hagley Hall estate in Worcestershire when they discovered a human skull hidden inside a wych elm tree trunk. Initially reluctant to tell anyone, one of the boys was too shocked by their discovery and confessed all to his parents. Upon police investigation, an almost complete human skeleton was found forced inside the trunk of the tree, with a hand discovered some distance away.

Bella in the Wych Elm is a black and white documentary short which tells the tale of the skeleton from discovery to her presumed identification. It was two years in the making and is clearly a labour of love for all those involved with two versions of the film existing, the original and a special silent movie edition with intertitles. I watched the original version which is narrated by ‘Tatty’ Dave Jones, who has a very broad Birmingham accent and he relays the tale as if chatting to you over a pint in your local pub. The film is made to look old and damaged with the filmmakers citing influences ranging from early silent films such as Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), the works of Guy Maddin, the book and film of Wisconsin Death Trip and exploitation pseudo-documentaries such as Legend of the Witches (1969).

rsz_bella_2It was deduced from forensic examination that the body was forced into the trunk whilst still warm as it could not have been achieved once rigor mortis had set in. However, the discovery did not really come into public conscience until three years later in 1944 when the first graffiti message relating to the mystery appeared on a wall in Upper Dean Street, Birmingham, reading “Who put Bella down the Wych Elm – Hagley Wood”. Since the 1970s the Hagley Obelisk near to where her remains were discovered has also been sporadically defaced with graffiti asking “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?”

Rutter’s short places the story in the realms of witchcraft and ritualistic murder, although the reality of her death is shown to be far less fantastical. He drops in a couple of very effective scares, what appears to be an original score and his influences, in particular Haxan, are definitely apparent.

Bella_SkullHowever, the short is also strongly tied to its geographical roots and it would be hard to imagine it having the same provincial tone if made by a non-local film crew. Although limited by a low budget at times, this creepy little tale lingers after the closing credits and comes recommended. 6/10

Bella in the Wych Elm has its premiere at Kidderminster Town Hall on 19th July 2017. More information can be found on Facebook (@BellaInTheWychElm) and Twitter (@Bella_Wych_Elm).

Altar (2017) Review

rsz_altarALTAR (2017)

Starring Stefanie Estes, Brittany Falardeau, Deep Rai and Jessica Strand

Written and Directed by Matthew Sconce

ALTAR is the terrifying story of a group of former college classmates who get lost driving to a college reunion camp out in the Sierra Nevada mountains. After stopping for the night, they stumble onto something much darker. They must battle to escape the evil they unleashed to not only save their own lives but their souls as well.”

I’ve watched so many found footage horror movies at this point that I kind of want to know what attracts filmmakers to the format. It’s not like they have a particularly good reputation now with critics and audiences, and the big hitters like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity feel like an age ago now. I’m honestly curious, because the amount of found footage movies in recent years that have found a real genuine reason to be made in such a way is very small. Most of the time it just seems to be an excuse by a filmmaker to get away with dodgy camerawork and sound. As if it excuses a lack of skill or talent. Which it absolutely doesn’t. Because if the story isn’t still told right in the edit, and if the performances aren’t even more believable than in a traditionally shot movie, then the audiences attention has already jumped ship. Truth is, it takes real skill and passion and filmmaking prowess to make a good found footage movie.

Which brings me to Altar. Which, to my surprise, was actually a very cool found footage horror!

rsz_altar1All those complaints in my little rant? Well, it seems Matthew Sconce has the same, and sought to avoid them all here. The camerawork is coherent while still convincingly “found”, the sound is effective and the acting is mostly very engaging. And you know what, it’s actually pretty scary occasionally. We can’t forget that!

As you can probably tell from the plot description, the storyline for Altar doesn’t offer anything in the way of originality but the ace up its sleeve is the characters and actors. The lead siblings Maisy (Estes) and Bo (Parr) are incredibly engaging. Complete opposites, with Maisy outgoing and spirited and Bo introverted and suffering from crippling anxiety and shyness, they nonetheless have an incredible bond that is not something you see many genre films even attempt to develop. Not only that, but Bo’s characterisation is what justifies the found footage format, with the camera being a kind of protective barrier for the aspiring filmmaker. The rest of the cast do well too, each character transcending stereotypes and it’s a pleasure to see.

rsz_altar3Once the horror does kick off (and it admittedly does take a while) the film is in a race to get to the finish line which I really did not mind. It felt very well-structured as the films emphasis is much more on characterisation. There’s a few great jump scares and some fantastic tension, but in terms of violence, due to the ambiguous nature of the threat it’s all a bit PG 13. Also, the production values in one pivotal scene kind of give away the budget, with a plastic-looking set that really draws attention to itself when it should be creating fear.

But all this can be forgiven. Altar is a slow build chiller that gets away with it because those slow moments are filled with characters you’re interested in spending time with.

7/10

Burn (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_burnBurn (Short 2017)

Director: Judson Vaughan
Writers: Chris Barnes and Judson Vaughan
Starrings: Max Cavenham, Emma Kelly and Matti Kolirin
Runtime: 15min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “In the midst of national hysteria and incomprehensible personal tragedy, a child is born bearing the scars of other people’s sins.”

To say I was burning to see this would be an understatement. It feels like forever since I found out Chris Barnes would be going on his very own film journey. We had since discussed the film a little bit but finally I have had the pleasure to watch it.

Burn tells the story of a personal tragedy and life thereafter for the family involved. The father of the family Peter (Max Cavenham) has made some videos to be played after he is gone for his son Charlie (Matti Kolirin). Due to the circumstances surrounding his father’s death, young Charlie becomes distant and disconnected as his mother Lou (Emma Kelly) tries her best as a single parent, with the added pressure of public scrutiny weighing heavy on her.

rsz_burn2As the story unfolds the relationships get more strained, leading to a satisfying conclusion.

In the tradition of discussing short films, I have to remain vague but rest assured Burn is worth your time, you’ll… Burn through it! Excellently crafted with tight narrative, if I had a hat I’d tip to Chris for trailblazing his way down his own filmmaking path (I’m not sorry for the puns). I believe Chris even made a cameo so had his on screen debut too, fairplay.

If you’re a fan of horror and especially independent film please support Burn and Chris over at www.TheSlaughteredBird.com for more horror and independent film coverage.

Verdict: Feel the Burn!

rsz_burn18.5/10

Listen to my conversation with Chris Barnes and UKHS’ own Andy Deen on The Bazaar – The Fear Merchant Podcast below:
https://soundcloud.com/thefearmerchant/e013-triple-six-fest