Parenthood is a frightening topic. The worry of whether or not one is ready for parenthood or is able to raise a child is more than enough to keep a person up at night. Short Film aims to present them in a heightened, horror-tinged way.
Written and directed by Leonardo Verkoelen, Short Film is an art-horror short that follows a soon-to-be father (played by Riley Clark) whose struggle to come to terms with the news of his girlfriend’s pregnancy is depicted through surreal, nightmarish imagery. The unique, experimental concept on show here is certainly intriguing; however, the resulting short proves to be relatively uneven, placing style and set pieces over substance.
Short Film’s biggest strength is its use of atmosphere. The use of high contrast lighting and black and white, film-noir-like cinematography imbues the short with an ominous atmosphere, and its slow camera movements and minimalist shot compositions communicate the protagonist’s anxieties in a restrained manner. The visual style and cinematography are incredibly striking and moody, and it is in these areas where the film truly shines.
Second to the film’s visual is its dissonant, minimalist score by composer Elmar Peters. Comprised primarily of rumbling drones and discordant tones, Peters’ score complements the film’s minimalistic visual style by instilling a sense of unease and eeriness to the proceedings without directly telling the audience how they’re supposed to feel. It’s not beautiful or complex by any means, but it is effective.
While the film excels in creating atmosphere and imbuing its imagery with mood, it is less successful with regard to its characters and narrative cohesiveness. Short Film’s desire to put us into the headspace of its unnamed protagonist is undercut by the fact that he never gets to be a character. Riley Clark gives a commendable understated performance, but his character has so little to do that we don’t care about his struggle. The wooden and stilted performances of the other cast members do little to aid in making any of the film’s underlying drama as compelling as it should be. None of them are particularly interesting, and the film isn’t entirely interested in them. They’re only there out of pure necessity.
Instead, the film is more concerned with presenting its surreal set pieces that never connect with the short’s narrative core. Rather than using the film’s themes of pregnancy and anxiety about parenthood to drive its horrific imagery, the film decides to string together disjointed sequences that don’t seem to connect to each other, much less any central themes. A woman smashes her face into a table. A woman falls to her death past the protagonist’s apartment window. None of this feels relevant and makes the film feel clunky and muddled.
It can be argued that being an art-horror film, these criticisms shouldn’t apply. But films like Antichrist (2010) prove that characters and narratively-driven imagery can elevate an art-horror film. Given that Short Film has neither of those, it fails to deliver on its thesis or the artistic, psychologically driven horror it aspires to showcase.
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||7mins. 23 Sec.