The Madame in Black (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_mib1The Madame in Black (Svarta Madam) (2017)

Directed by: Jarno Lee Vinsencius
Written by: Jarno Lee Vinsencius
Starring: Demis Tzivis, Ida Gyllensten and Ellinor Rosander

“After playing the infamous urban legend game “The Madame in Black”, Alex and his sister, Sarah, experience the wrath of the evil witch Madame in Black.”

On some levels, short horror films can be far more effective than full length movies. With short horror films there is little time for the audience to second-guess surprise developments. Knowing that there’s less than half an hour of a film makes us (as viewers) aware that every second of the narrative is important and will likely have some bearing on the resolution. This brevity of time is one hell of a tool for focusing attention. The Madame in Black uses this brevity to shrewd effect.

The storyline is relatively simple and it’s nothing we haven’t seen touched on in Candyman (1992), Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) and countless other movies. A character sits in front of a mirror and says a name three times in an attempt to summon a supernatural entity. In this film, starting in Hörby, Sweden, 1995, brother and sister Alex and Emma try this childish summoning with their grandmother’s mirror.

rsz_mib2It does not end well.

Fast forward twenty-two years and, whilst Alex and Emma are physically mature, their idea of a fun evening’s entertainment remains as childish as it had been back in 1995. To make the situation worse, they still have granny’s mirror.

The Madame in Black is a masterclass in tension and suspense. With moody lighting, awkward camera angles, strong performances and lots of shocks, this works on every level. It’s no surprise that this film has claimed awards at the Actors Awards, Los Angeles (2017), Barcelona Planet Film Festival (2017), Direct Online Film Festival (2017), and many, many others. Well worth checking out. 9/10.

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).

Tethered (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_tethered_teaser_poster_officialTethered (Short 2017)

Director: Daniel Robinette
Writers: Jeff Cox, Daniel Robinette
Stars: Jared Cook, Grace Mumm and Kayla Stuhr
Runtime: 12min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “Abandoned by his mother, Solomon is left to live in isolation while abiding by three rules. Having grown accustomed to his routine, he begins to realize the rules may be a hindrance to a life-changing discovery.”

Tethered is the next short by the talented team over at 4 Leagues Media. Following up from Drawn to Fear (2016) and The Time Will Come (2016) (which I’ve previously reviewed both favourably). Don’t be alarmed there is no bias here, I must uphold my critical integrity!

As mentioned above in the brief synopsis Tethered follows a boy named Solomon. He lives out in the wilderness and must hunt and trap to survive in the harsh conditions. He is guided by three rules bestowed to him by his mother. He physically tethers himself to the cabin, (he is of fixed abode!) so he doesn’t wander and get lost, given his ailments and the condition that he is in. These are all subtly uncovered over the course of the early stages of the film.
For a 12min film, it seemed fairly fleshed out, more than most short films of this duration. The pacing was spot on for the story that was being told. I’ve come to know the style of filmmaking. If I watched blindly I believe I would be able to guess and say “yes, this is a Robinette I’m watching.”

rsz_tethered_tapeWhere I felt this short lost its footing was for the climax scene. Thematically it felt out of character with the rest of the film. I have had the opportunity to discuss this with Dan after the fact and my suspicions were confirmed with him as to why certain narrative decisions were made. But I will let you, the potential viewer, to make up your own mind.

I’ve been told I was the first outsider to have laid eyes on Tethered and what a pretty sight indeed. From a purely technical standpoint, the film cannot be faulted. The acting, cinematography, the location and basically everything that fills the screen oozes character, detail and style. The story was captivating and I was sucked right into the world in which Solomon inhabits. Years of backstory conveyed by both visual and audio cues. This is a testament again to the continued quality 4 Leagues Media manages to produce. For me it has been 3/3 that have knocked it out of the park in this very competitive arena of short films.

rsz_tethered_solomonVerdict: Not the end of Robinette’s tether

8.8/10

Listen to my chat with Dan Robinette below on The Bazaar Cast:
https://soundcloud.com/thefearmerchant/e001-daniel-robinette-writerdirector

Neon (2016) Short Film Review

neonsfNeon (Short 2016)

Director: Mark J. Blackman
Writer: Mark J. Blackman
Stars: Joe Absolom, Kerry Bennett and Bill Hutchens
Runtime: 15min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “An man who is forbidden by a higher power from pursuing a life of love and happiness attempts to end his life, to spare the woman he loves from her own life of heartbreak.”

A stylish whirlwind adventure set in London, Neon follows Mary (Kerry Bennett) who receives a phone call from a gravely voiced unknown man (Joe Absolom). They have met online but the man informs her that he must stay away and that they are forbidden to meet. His employers would not be happy if they were to connect.

neonsf1With a buzzy electric score setting the tone for this gritty neon electric dream of a short. It is implied that Mary’s contact is a man caught up with the wrong crowd and has had Mary under surveillance for unknown reasons. He is condemned man, we are lead to believe, as two burly men are in hot pursuit looking for his whereabouts. Mary though, is not giving up that easily, she is eager to squeeze an explanation from Elias but gets nowhere with this mysterious man. Scatterings of flashbacks provide us with enough information to piece together the twos relationship (that’s all I’ll say on that.)

All is not as it seems and there is more to Elias than meets the eye, as the goon squad closes in on him, we get a peek into what is really going on. There is great acting on show here with fantastic filmography, very stylish with great popping colours, worthy to the moniker Neon. Mark and the crew have really produced a great short. Stylistically, Neon is in the vein of a condensed and more blistering paced version of Drive (2007) and more recently The Neon Demon (2016). Ryan Gosling as the driver has less dialogue than Joe Absolom’s Elias has in a full feature (joke).

neonsf2If you’re looking for a quick short with plenty of both style and substance, Neon is the film for you. Plenty of twists and turns with a solid narrative, all in a bite sized 15 minutes.

Verdict: Solid Stylistic Thriller

8.8/10

Mr Topps (2016) Short Film Review

mr_topps_poster_1Mr. Topps (Short 2016)

Writer/Director: Adam de la Cour

Stars: Claire Brookwell, Benjamin Campbell Piggott and Adam de la Cour

Runtime: 11min

Synopsis: A rowdy magician, gets to revisit some bizarre people and events from his past, in this surrealist performance art short.

Mr. Topps is a surrealist fever dream centred around the performing magician Percy Topps (Benjamin Campbell Piggott).

We are planted head on in front of Mr. Topps who is tied up in a darkened room. A disembodied voice, named Deep Throat (Adam de la Cour) fills the room and begins to interrogate and coax reactions from our namesake protagonist.
Flashing through past events and run ins with people from his past.

Is this a trial, is this a final judgement in this crazed limbo we find ourselves in?

All will be revealed in time but until that time you will be left scarcthing your head while feeling a gnawing unease as the contents and direction of this trail as we’ll call it, wanders completely left of field.

topps_analAs we dive into the knitty gritties of Mr. Topps your enjoyment will entirely hinge on the state of mind you’re in when and if you decide to watch it. I’d hazard a guess and say this short is best enjoyed under some chemical influence. Watching this blood sober leaves this a complete head scratcher, audibly hearing myself say “what the f@#k?” at some of the surrealist imagery.

Is this an art house attempt at some offbeat dark humour? It most certainly is. Is Mr. Topps worth a watch? If you’re into cerebral dark humour, yes of course. Breaking down the film, it was produced fantastically, Mr. Topps himself was entertaining seemingly unphased that he could be meeting certain death from the ominous disembodied antagonist, Deep Throat.

The water shed conclusion is where we find find ourselves at a loss but that is exactly what was intended.

Verdict: Topp of the head scratcher

7/10

www.adamdelacour.com

Bad Acid (2015) Short Film Review

Bad Acid Poster correctBAD ACID (2015)

Starring Tiffany Haynes, Tristan Beint and Madeleine Bowyer

Written & Directed by David Chaudoir

“Marvin Maskelyn, a washed up TV hypnotist and magician desperate to recapture his fame acquires a magic lamp and some LSD. His vision of fame is not quite what he imagined”. Via David Chaudoir

Before the well-reviewed (on this site as well) Adonis and Aphrodite, writer and director David Chaudoir conjured up this tale of the macabre, an ingenious little chiller that evokes the spirit of Hammer and Amicus.

Coming across as a mixture of David Brent and the late Paul Daniels, Tristan Beint stars as washed up trickster Marvin. After reaching the height of fame in his profession and living the high life with A list celebrity friends, Marvin now tours labour clubs and drinking holes, being ridiculed by the drunks and growing greyer by the minute.

When he acquires a little magic lamp from his relic-collecting buddy, he sees an opportunity to get back to his old self. But along with the lamp is some LSD, and after eagerly ingesting it, he experiences a trip full of ghoulish images and bloody happenings. Is it just his own dark mind, or are there more to his visions?

bad acidChaudoir works wonders with a minimal budget, with a strong sense of place created with simple lighting and good ol’ northern dialogue. Beint works wonders with his character, fully embracing his egotistical side.

Although some of the FX can be a bit ropey, it all helps with the feel of an old school Hammer House of Horror episode. Indeed, with its just shy of 20 minute runtime and cautionary/morality tale climax, you could imaging the Crypt Keeper introducing this late on a Friday night.

Chaudoir is quickly making a name for himself. With his own style and sensibility, but in a pleasingly old-fashioned way. I look forward to what comes next.

7/10

Heir (2015) Short Film Review

heir1Heir (2015)

Runtime – 15 minutes

Written and Directed by Richard Powell

Starring: Bill Oberst Jr., Robert Nolan

What’s it all about?
Gordon (Nolan) connects with Denis (Oberst Jr.) and travels to meet with him, bringing his son along too. But, all is not well and secrets are about to be revealed and Gordon is left with a major dilemma.

This is Powell’s fourth short film and a fine effort it is too. He builds a nice connection with his characters with his opening, creating a sense of unease and turmoil. We can see and feel Gordon’s struggles with his inner demons and we share his pain as events unfold and he’s faced with an agonising decision.

Strong performances, clever writing and direction really propel this little film along swiftly, it’s only real let down being the creature effects which aren’t awful, but really not up to the standards set by the rest of the production.

I won’t dwell on that though as it’s not something that ruins the film and it always feels unfair to be negative about a production which shows ambition and style, in the face of it’s restricted budget. The production quality in the main is high. The direction is solid and Powell has managed to pull in two strong, seasoned actors to carry the piece. Oberst Jr. is a veteran of many horror movies and you can see why. He has a look about him and his performance is dark and unnerving. Nolan comes across creepy, but lost and you do want him to resist the darkness inside.

heir2Powell plays with the audience, never quite revealing his hand. There’s a pun there, but you’ll have to watch the film to get it and even then you may feel like I’ve built the whole pun thing up too much only to be let down when you realise it was pretty lame. But, need we dwell on such things as bad puns? No, we need to learn to move past puns, to leave them behind us and not get caught up in the whole pun thing. It’s a dangerous step to take and if you lose your grip on it all then you can end up with an avalanche of puns all cascading around you, burying you deep beneath them where you only escape is to reach out and cry for help ‘save me from the puns!’

I’ll tell you now, if you end up in that deep, dark place you will have only yourself to blame. Now, back to the matter at hand.

‘Heir’ is a nicely made, strongly performed short which oozes talent and is well worth 14 minutes of your time.

7/10

Already Dead (2016) Short Film Review

alreadydeadALREADY DEAD (2016) Short Film Review

Starring Darren Ruston, Luke Shaw, Shelley Davenport and Tony Cook

Written & Directed by Michael James Dean

Runtime – 16 minutes

“15 years after a zombie outbreak (ZE Day) Zombies live amongst us, working 9-5 jobs, holidaying in Barbados, and living “life” to the fullest. A documentary crew have been given exclusive access to a group of Zombies day-to-day “lives””. Via Michael James Dean.

The horror genre is rife with found footage at the moment, all pretty much interchangeable. It almost makes you forget that the genre that the format fits best was originally comedy, from the classic mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, to the much more recent and desperate-to-be-seen Winners Tape All, which I reviewed a few months ago. Like the latter, Already Dead is a hybrid of the horror and comedy genre, leaning heavily towards to comedy, dressed up as a short documentary.

And guess what. It’s very successful.

The pitch perfect comedic performances are what make this one work, from our “lead” zombie George (Ruston) to the lovely couple David (Tony Cook) and his undead fiancé Lynn (Davenport). Everything is done with that Great British dry sense of humour and darkly effective comic timing, the use of subtitles in particular allowing for some side-splitting moments.

alreadydead1Not only is Already Dead very funny, it also manages to be very thought-provoking. By using the documentary format, it manages to cover a large variety of very UK-relevant themes such as ageism, racism, the NHS, the treatment of the disabled, and addiction. And it does it all effortlessly in about 15 minutes! That’s really something.

The only thing I could complain about are some slightly iffy CGI FX, but these are probably down to the budget and really don’t distract from the fun here. If you’re looking for a nice twist on the zombie genre that pokes fun at the conventions while also having a lot of heart, definitely seek this out.

8/10

The Lamb (2016) Short Film Review

thelamb1The Lamb (2016 short)

Writer/Director: Shawn Burkett

Starring: Brittany Blanton, Shawn Burkett and Joshua Clemons

Runtime: 22min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “Found beaten and covered in strange blood markings, Sara Combs must relive the past 48 hours of her abduction during a police interrogation. As Sara dives back into her ordeal signs of the occult begin to surface.”

In the opening credits The Lamb proclaims itself to be a “no budget horror” and with that statement comes some degree of anxiety for me. Low budget horror is generally passed off and judged without ever really being considered. Well, if there is anything I have learned from my last year at UKHS, it is that low budget does not necessarily mean low quality.

The Lamb is indeed barebones, with most of the shots taken in the woods or just one or two rooms; that is all perfectly acceptable once it can deliver to the audience an engaging story, which it does! We are taken on a sort of paranormal murder mystery which is all quite fun. Sara (Payton Krebs) is excellent in her role, this also being her second film involved with Mr. Burkett. Some seductive scenes are also tastefully done, the last thing we’d want to see is some smut for the sake of garnering a cheap view count. The bulk of the film has Sara being interviewed by Detective Matthews (Scott Gillespie), a disinterested cop who tries to tease out the events of the last 48hrs which is used to segway into flashbacks of Sara’s ordeal and how she got to be covered in blood and the death of her friend.

thelamb2As the plot develops, things get more sinister by the minute. I will not spoil the twists and turns of this interesting short as it did hold my interest throughout. Although the dark themes have been explored elsewhere, it’s nice to see a low budget take on such shenanigans.

Overall The Lamb was a well presented, bit sized murder mystery with a twist. I enjoyed it for the most part and was left wanting more, it really felt like the first act to something that could be more. My one main criticism, despite the film being low budget, was at how casual the detective was dressed for an interview with a murder suspect, it was a major costume design faux pas, considering occult members were provided with cloaks and gowns. A pair of jeans and a half buttoned shirt is not police attire (maybe for a Ron Jeremy *wink*). I know it sounds petty but The Devil is in the detail my friends!

Verdict: This Lamb isn’t Ham

7.7/10

Bloody Mary: Possession (2016) Short Film Review

bloodymarypossession1Bloody Mary: Possession (Short 2016)

Writer, Director and Producer: Dark Libra

Starring: Cam Holmes and Megan Lynn Iosue

Runtime: 25min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “An emotionally distraught woman accidently unleashes a menacing spirit upon her home.

This film has been shot, edited and scored all on an iPhone 6. A nice idea for a film experiment, I was keen to see how this all played out. Not taking itself too seriously, Bloody Mary is full of little jokes and slights with the main focus on the relationship of the two protagonists, Mike (Cam Holmes) and Sam (Megan Lynn Iosue). Sam is eager for Mike to be more committed to her, while he protests that he’s already doing quite enough without the pressure of affording a wedding. Unhappy with this, Sam takes it upon herself to meddle with the supernatural in an attempt to get what she wants.

Bloody Mary is full of every haunted house/ghost/possession troupe you can imagine (in a good way), giving it nice pacing over its rather beefy duration for a film such as this (produced on a phone). The camera work as a result is surprising solid considering someone was essentially holding a phone (owning an iPhone 6 myself I know how finicky it can be).

While Bloody Mary is a début for both actors present, the performances were a little bit inconsistent, the final scenes has Mike shrieking in an inhuman high pitched tone, meant clearly to signify “the big brave man is a scared little girl” I nearly had to stop watching at this point due to its annoyance. The climax is entertaining besides the ear splitting screaming, with some great tension.

Overall Bloody Mary was entertaining; however, there were no boundaries pushed in terms of storytelling or deep and meaningful messages to walk away contemplating. It really boiled down to “let us see what we can do with a phone”.

Verdict: Fun Family Feud (now with ghosts).

5/10