SHORT FILM REVIEWS
(Directed by Jeremiah Kipp)
Director Jeremiah Kipp is a busy man. A cursory glance at his credits on IMDB will attest to that. Genre fans may be familiar with some of the shorts he has made over the past decade or so and those based in the UK may best know him as the writer/director of Slapface (2021), which was undoubtedly one of the best films of this year's Frightfest festival. It's a film that was based on a short of the same name that was made back in 2018 and it explores themes of family, trauma and the supernatural. A triumvirate that are all on display in his latest short film, Siren. It all opens with a troubled middle-aged man calling his daughter Kelli (Erica Logsdon) from his living room, a bottle of whisky and the white noise of a TV his only company. He says three words to her and three words only; 'Don't come here'. He proceeds to grab a handgun and turns it on himself, to the utter horror of his daughter on the other end of the line. It's then we realise that he's not alone. There's someone else there with him, silhouetted against the fuzzing whiteness of the television. Flash forward a few days and Kelli hasn't heeded his warning and arrives to sort things out at the house after her father's funeral. She's not alone at least, her boyfriend (Joseph Sanchez) is there for moral support and it becomes a family reunion of sorts when Kelli's brother (Dillon Lau) also arrives. But why did her father warn her not to go to the house and who was the mysterious figure with him when he took his own life? Don't worry, they'll all find out soon enough...
Short movies aren't blessed with the fortune of enough time to comprehensively explore their characters, themes and plot. They operate to a different structure and set of rules and trying to convey the essence of a story is perhaps the ultimate aim of most films under twenty minutes. Saying that, Sirens is perfectly happy to withhold as much as it possibly can. What's the point in trying to cram too much exposition and backstory in when you've got so little time after all? Rather than get bogged down in the details, Kipp opts for a more measured approach, letting us fill in some of the blanks ourselves. The emphasis instead is placed on mood. Sparse dialogue and a lack of score means that it all feels quite pensive although the almost continuous low pitched droning and shots that linger a second or two more than normal help conjure a quiet sense of unease throughout. And even though it is set during daylight hours, there's an obscurity to the cinematography from Christopher Bye that adds to that sense of disquiet. It may be sunny outside but inside, our characters are shrouded in shadows and murk. Thematically, we do not delve too deeply into the fractured relationship of our central characters, aside from a few clues early on. Family disintegration is a subject that has been explored in the genre for decades (dare you cast your minds back to films such as Hereditary) and at its heart, it's what Siren is all about too. A supernatural force wreaking havoc on a normal American family.
The classical scholar Walter Copeland Perry once made the following observation about the myth of sirens; 'Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.' It's a sentiment that Kipp's film echoes in spades. We have no real idea by the closing images how it came to be or where it came from. Was it birthed from the grief caused by the death of the matriarch? Has it always existed inside the house? Who knows, we aren't given all the answers and that's just fine with us.
(Directed by Peter Stanley-Ward)
Horror and animation don't feel like the most natural bedfellows. The fact the latter has traditionally been used for children (and family) films is testament to that. Fooling the viewer into thinking what they are watching is real is generally a fundamental for most successful genre pictures – you only have to look at the popularity of the found-footage sub-genre to see audience's desire to make that suspension of disbelief that little bit more straightforward. There are of course a whole host of animated films/cartoons that have introduced younger viewers to the world of horror. Scooby Doo is a personal fave but more recently films such as Monster House and Coraline have done so with much acclaim. But what about something a little bit darker? A little bit more adult? Well Treehouse Digital's new short film The Well attempts to make that leap.
Coming in at around 7 and a half minutes long, it would be remiss of us to give too much of the plot away. But the set up is thankfully quite simple. It's Halloween and four teenagers head into the woods to find a wishing well that one of the group, a girl disparagingly nicknamed Trailer Trish, claims to have visited. The others don't really believe that there is a well at all and think that she's just doing it because she wants to be friends with them. However, they are forced to eat some humble pie when Trish makes good on her promise. Trish tells them the rules; you hold the bucket at the top of the well, make a wish and lower it down to the bottom – and your wish is then granted. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Yeah, quite a bit actually...
Originally released in October, The Well perfectly captures the mood of everyone's favourite autumnal celebration with its subdued colour palette, crisp golden hues and falling leaves. And the ominous woodland provides the perfect backdrop for events to unravel too. Of course, none of these would be effective if the visuals weren't up to scratch. There is a fine line between animation looking clunky and wooden and uncannily realistic but The Well manages to find that sweet spot in the middle. Digital animation has come on leaps and bounds over the last ten years or so and the bar continues to rise and competition is fierce. Thankfully, this is nothing short of beautiful to look at and this isn't just down to the top notch use of Unreal Engine and MetaHuman by Treehouse Digital (the realisation of faces and body movement really is quite excellent). Without accomplished direction and editing, a short like this can suffer dramatically but Director Peter Stanley-Ward does a wonderful job of telling the story from a visual perspective. The sound design is impressive too with the voice actors all doing a solid job and a nice understated but chilly score underpinning it all.
And whilst it may focus on a group of kids, this is not necessarily one of those 'spooky shorts' that you would want to show younger children on Halloween night. We get a bit of swearing and a few minor sexual references and the horror elements, although only brief, are arresting enough to provide a jolt or two. The fun though is mainly in the build up and The Well revels in slowly cranking up the tension every time that bucket is lowered into the well, and then raised back up again. Back in 2017, Treehouse Digital gave us the delightful Halloween themed short Treaters and this year they've served up another treat yet again. It may be set at Halloween but it's something to enjoy at any point during the dark nights (and days) ahead...