A WINNING FORMULA
Director: Aidan Weaver
Screenplay: Jennifer Trudrung
Review: RJ Bland
There is something a little bit disconcerting about babysitting isn't there? Of course a lot of it is to do with the weight of responsibility of looking after a tiny human being. In reality, you quite often never actually end up seeing the kid who just sleeps for the duration of your stay but still, you are the adult in charge and with that comes certain expectation. Then there's the fear of being alone in a strange home. What if something happens? What if someone or something tries to get into the house?! Indeed there are several horror films have played off this fear (When a Stranger Calls, Halloween). But there is another, more modern fear about looking after a small kid all on your lonesome and it's not so much about what lurks outside the house. Maybe the thing you should be scared off is tucked up 'asleep' upstairs...
Unbearing is an award-winning short film directed by Aiden Weaver that deals with this very problem. Young babysitter Lindsay agrees to a late babysitting gig for a couple of anxious new parents. They haven't left their darling little Theo alone before and the mother (played by writer Jennifer Trudrung) is particularly on edge about the prospect. But the kid is young and they have never used a babysitter before so a little bit of nervousness is normal. When the mother shows Lindsay the video monitor that shows a sleeping baby in a cot upstairs, everything seems pretty straightforward. But when Lindsay enquires about what to feed him if he wakes up, she is informed that he won't wake up. 'Theo will sleep', the mother says. Hmmm, a bit odd we (and Lindsay) thinks. The parents head out and our babysitter is left alone. She chats with a friend and does some school work but there's something that feels off about this whole thing and it's not too long before she's deliberating whether or not to go and check on the baby...
Films such as Sickboy and House of the Devil have both explored similar themes in the past. The idea that the thing you are meant to be looking after could actually be a threat in itself. Like these movies, Unbearing puts a babysitter in the difficult position of being offered a seemingly easy job but one fraught with unexpected (and internal) risk. However the danger here does not come in the form of satanists or a zombie child, however to tell you exactly what was going on would pretty much spoil the whole thing! Suffice to say that it is unique enough to make it stand out from the two films referenced previously. At some point you know that there is going to be a twist in the tale, and although some might guess it before the reveal, it is still nevertheless a thoroughly unnerving and macabre moment.
Of course, as it's a short film, what we see playing out is effectively one long sequence. However, even on a micro level, films and stories still need structure. Set up, debate and payoff – and Unbearing is structured in a way that whilst it feels like it could be the prologue scene to a feature length movie, it is also self-contained and complete enough to feel like an entire film distilled down into 9 minutes or so.
You may think it's easier to write a short film but trying to get in everything you want to say and showing everything you want to show in such a short running time presents challenges itself. Unbearing is particularly impressive in this regard because it manages to get across all the character and plot details whilst maintaining a deliberate and controlled pace throughout. It feels considered and admirably never feels the need to rush the action or dialogue. It also scores point for generating a genuine sense of unease, felt by both the viewer and our lead (Mary Katherine O'Donnell). One of the best parts of horror movies, be they shorts or feature length movies, is the anticipation of something terrible. The sense that something is wrong. And Unbearing has a simmering atmosphere from the get go.
Finally, the performances are all solid too but Mary Katherine O'Donnell is especially good. Wheras in Sickboy we despaired at the actions of the babysitter (and thus she lost a lot of our sympathy), here O'Donnell impressively portrays a level-headed but curious character who does what most of us would do in similar circumstances. Not only does the quality of production values in short genre films seem to be forever improving, but the quality of acting is too. Just one more reason to track down this little gem.