South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival – Writer/director Julian Terry plays on the already imaginative minds of gamers and turns their safely crafted digital world against them in his short horror film, Don’t Peek (2021), premiering at the SXSW Online 2021 in the “Midnight Shorts” category. In what just might be the first Animal Crossing-based horror movie, Don’t Peek is in-line with shorts like Lights Out (2013), using just a simple premise of ‘woman vs. dark entity’ to net a big payoff for horror and make me not want to play video games for a while.
In the nearly 8 minute film, a young (Katie Cetta) is spending her evening playing the video game Animal Crossing on her Nintendo DS. While playing through her avatar in the game, the woman discovers that she is able to turn off the lights and open and shut the drawers in her real-life bedroom, showing that her game world is somehow linked with her real world. When an entity appears within the game, she is frightened to find that it can affect her in the real world as well.
If Julian Terry proves one thing with Don’t Peek, it is that he knows good and well how to build anticipation in a scene. Don’t Peek begins innocently enough, and slowly but surely, the set-up grows more and more sinister by the second. Each bump-in-the-night, each gasp, each creak of the bed sent chills up my spine, creating an atmosphere rife with dread, in wait of the inevitable appearance of the dark entity, which Julian Terry, smartly, saved for the end.
Though the monster’s full appearance was not revealed until the climax, Julian Terry wrote and directed this film in such a way that the monster was given prominent display even though it was hidden in shadows or eerily clothed in a sheet to stoke the fires of fear before the grand unveiling. When the sheet was removed, let’s just say that the monster’s visage is the stuff of nightmares, so though Don’t Peek is definitely worth watching, perhaps not just before bed.
Though Julian Terry wrote and directed an obvious slam dunk of basic woman vs. dark entity short, Don’t Peek was really sold through the acting performance of the short film’s star, Katie C’etta –I don’t know where this doe-eyed actress has been hiding, but she was superb without hardly even uttering a peep. Believable acting, chilling sound design, grotesque demon design, and tempered but terrifying use of the demon all worked together to create a recipe for an excellent short from Julian Terry.
Don’t Peek reviewed as part of our South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival coverage.
7.75 out of 10