Why do we enjoy being scared? Judging by the long and proud history of the horror genre, it seems fair to conclude that many of us do. But trying to provide anything resembling an adequate answer about why that might be the case seems like a tricky prospect.
In many ways, horror actually feels like one of the simpler genres an aspiring film-maker could delve into. The expectations are well established after all. Also, based on what has been released over the years, it does occasionally feel as though the standards aren't very high.
Truly great horror is something different, though. Gore and jump scares can be fun, in a morbid and macabre sort of way, but they aren't necessarily the components of effective horror. Quite often, in fact, they almost seem to be a crutch used to prop up a mediocre effort. The best horror places the emphasis on establishing, and maintaining, an atmosphere of quiet dread. This is something that can keep the viewer on edge, even when nothing particularly important is actually happening.
The five short films below each provide good examples of the more subtle and restrained horror that I tend to prefer. None of them are graphically violent in any way. Instead, they each focus on trying to create the genuinely unsettling atmosphere that I consider to be the hallmark of great horror.
Vienna Waits For You
Vienna Waits For You is a very strange film—but it's also a genuinely unsettling one. A young woman finds herself locked in a desperate battle with her own apartment after she is tricked into signing a contract and becoming its newest tenant. The apartment is alive, you see—a living entity which feeds on the life of whoever is unfortunate enough to live within. And the only way it will let you go is if someone else takes your place. Because, it 'doesn't like to be alone'.
It could be very easy to dismiss this film as little more than surreal silliness, sure—but some great performances from the film's cast, and a genuinely creepy and unsettling atmosphere, should be enough to win you over.
You can watch Vienna Waits For You by following this link.
The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow
It's the simplest set-up you could imagine. For much of The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow, the viewer's focus is on a single photo which, as we are are informed early on, is evidence in a case involving missing children. The photo seems perfectly innocent, though. It is, after all, a photo of a simple gathering of friends. But, we're encouraged to look closer and, as we do, we slowly tease out details that reveal that this isn't quite the innocent gathering that it appears to be.
Then there's the surreal and effectively unnerving way that the photo seems to shift and change as we study it, as more details are slowly teased out, and the seemingly innocent photo begins to take on a significantly more sinister appearance. Sure, we're seeing details in the photo that we should never really be able to see, as the camera begins to move in closer, and even begins to move within the photo, itself. But that's just a part of the film's strange and surreal charm.
You can watch The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow by following this link.
A film which plays on the well documented creepiness of dolls. In Alma, we meet a young girl, simply out enjoying her day, when she passes a particular store where she sees a doll that looks just like her. Overcome by curiosity, the girl tries to enter the store, but finds that the store seems to be closed, and the door is locked. Of course, just as she is about to give up and leave, the door suddenly opens.
Alma is a bright and colourful film—but, the moment that doll is first shown, we know that things aren't going to end well for the girl. And, that feeling only grows stronger as we watch the girl's child-like curiosity compel her to enter the strange store.
You can watch Alma by following this link.
A woman who begins each morning with a run along the path running through the woods has an encounter with something supernatural in this clever and very atmospheric ghost story. Unusual sights, and strange encounters, hint at some past tragedy. With each day that passes, these strange encounters become more overt, as the truth of what took place in these secluded woods is slowly revealed, both to the woman and to the audience.
Line Signal is a film which makes good use of its secluded woodland setting to establish an atmosphere that manages to be both eerie and sombre as it slowly reveals its central mystery.
You can watch Line Signal by following this link.
The Last Time I Saw Richard
As a resident of a mental health clinic for troubled teens, Jonah seems content to spend his time bullying and intimidating the other patients. When a new patient, Richard, arrives at the clinic, though, Jonah finds himself sharing a room with a boy clearly much more troubled than he is. Gradually, an unlikely friendship begins to grow between them. However, after being awoken by strange sounds while Richard sleeps, Jonah learns that the demons that haunt his new friend are much more literal ones.
The Last Time I Saw Richard is a film which seems to concern itself as much with issues of mental health and the value of friendship as it does with the feeling of dread it strives to elicit. It combines fantastic performances from the two leads, who each effectively portray the odd and strained friendship between two clearly troubled boys, with an atmosphere of mounting fear as the film's supernatural elements makes its presence felt.
There's a fair bit of coarse language in this one, though. So, it should probably come with a content warning.
You can watch The Last Time I Saw Richard by following this link.
© 2019 Dallas Matier