Not a lot of people who make films have the ability, nor the capacity, to make a lasting impression in under 30 minutes. Shit, most need that to develop characters. Then you have those rare folks who just get it-they have that wit and nastiness to use the short film format to assault you with images and ideas that will burn themselves into your mind for days. For me, Mourningside Production’s “Behold” lingered for an entire weekend and I’m still reeling.
The story begins in a quiet manner and leaves with that same quiet, but has piled on an eeriness that is reminiscent of some of the David Lynch black & white shorts. We meet Ellie & Anthony, brother and sister, who are living a relatively quiet existence since the passing of their father. While it appears they are both adjusting, Ellie certainly seems to be still struggling with the reality of the situation. Anthony has to amp up his toughness to compensate for his sister’s lack thereof, but is clearly fucked up by the hole now created in their young lives. We’re there to witness them mourning graveside ( in what seems like a moment we shouldn’t have seen), hear meaningless banter about “dad”, which is indicative of a serious pain just below the surface, and see them just plain, existing. It’s at this point that the film turns into a different realm, entirely. We’re party to Ellie’s dreams of her suicide and this strange, lurking character is our guide. He’s always in the background, pulling the strings that make Ellie work. He’s not human, yet, not fully beast. As the time passes, it’s apparent he’s what’s making Ellie fall further and further away from reality. Sure, Anthony can play the protector all he wants, but can he truly save her from death itself? And as the story builds to its fantastic conclusion, the audience is left with an air of unease/uncertainty that doesn’t let you off easy. It’s a very jarring experience.
I will readily admit that when a company gets ahold of us to send out screeners, there is always a bit of trepadation on my part. We’re one of the few websites that actually champions the real indie filmmakers, but I’m fully aware of the limitations in being one. No money, shitty equipment, acting to make you shake your head and roll your eyes in that “what the fuck?!” way-all classic examples of these films. But when that “don’t judge a book by its cover” adage turns around and slaps you in the face, you can’t help but be excited about the future of horror-and “Behold” makes me excited about the future of horror! It’s less about dialogue and gore, and more about atmosphere and images. The film was shot in a rural location that puts the story in a place of desperate isolation. The landscape, while beautiful, is the backdrop to their misery. Though the area seems familiar, when the “creature’ is in the picture, it feels alien: Like they’re on a different planet. You can feel the cold and the sense that something bad is going to happen-and when it does, you’re still surprised. As each moment passes, Ellie’s sanity seems to be challenged and this is brought to life in the form of the monster that lurks just over her shoulder. The monster foreshadows more atrocities to come for the siblings. You don’t get to feel good about the end. As the viewer, you’re challenged with the idea that some things do NOT get better. It’s a pretty alarming idea and a very heavy concept to tackle in a short film.
Filmmaker Richard Donahue built a creepy world, where you are sitting in the presence of evil, without realizing it. It’s subtlties and ability to understate the concepts were it’s strongest characteristics. When you get the first glimpse of the monster, you wonder if you’re going to see an evil beast stalk and attack this young woman. Instead, Donahue took the high road, using the forboding creature as a metaphor for what’s hanging overhead. The creature’s stature and look are so menacing. Yet, it never acts upon anything. It’s a presence (that ends up being a far more horrific realization than I’d anticipated) and that presence doesn’t want you to reveal itself fully. This ends up being the clincher to the story, and Donahue and Co. use it to great effect. I’d originally assumed there’d be buckets of the red stuff (Donahue is a graduate of the Savini School). Instead, there are fewer effects, so the ones we do see are that much more terrifying. And with so little use of dialogue, its reliance on the visual side of the film, which is what film should be about, is bold and pays off in spades. Pulling all this together with some great casting (Lauren Lakis and Daniel Baker do a marvelous job in their roles as brother and sister), and you have yourself a brilliant short film made for the true fan of horror.
Mourningside Productions lead me down a misleading path. I’d assumed I was getting another gorefest from a fledgling indie company. What’s here is a brilliant movie, that is both terrifying and captivating on a much higher level than most of its contemporaries. Gone are the days where mediocrity is passable in the horror film world, as long as their are people like Richard Donahue making horror films. The bar has been set very high by these guys, and they’ve done it with very little money to spend. I view this as solid proof that a truly scary film can be made of little budget. If you’re capable of telling a great story with your surroundings, you’ll surpass what’s come before you. The acting is consistent and hits the right emotional chords without coming off as overtly dramatic. The cinematography is near perfect, making great use of the beautiful landscape that rural Maryland has provided, the being’s makeup is well made and makes you fear his/its presence, and the audio is ominous and scary in itself. Overall, Behold is a memorable, visually gripping horror film that will leave a lasting impression on its viewer. After seeing what these guys are capable of in less than 30 minutes of footage, I look eagerly toward the future that may include more releases from Mourningside Productions. So, one of you indie distributors out there looking for someone with a vision: Hit up Richard Donahue because he’s got the goods.
Editor’s Note: At the time of this review posting, there wasn’t a trailer to add for viewing. When one is available, we will add it to the post.