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John’s Horror Corner: Order of the Ram (2013), a short film hiding a great idea

January 11, 2014

MY CALL:  An unoriginal British film hinting at a VERY interesting idea that I’d like to see realized in a feature length film.  MORE LIKE THIS:  This film contains elements and potential that smack of The Shrine (2010) or a more adult-targeting take on Rosemary’s Baby (1968).  TRAILER: Click Here.

This review was solicited by writer/director Scott Lyus (Twitter @scottlyus).

I must admit, I struggled to find the tone in the opening campus scenes as we are introduced to the main character, an articulate college student named Mary.  The filming style utilized a careful contrast of in- and out-of-focus elements and I just couldn’t put my finger on why–I could only identify that I thought the filmmakers were “trying to make me notice or sense something.”

The majority of the film takes place in the woods, the transition into which is awash with lovely serenity-instilling shots.  When Mary is abducted by a satanic cult (the Order of the Ram) the counterfocal filming strategy lends itself to Mary’s bewilderment and fear.  [Perhaps this was simply the product of a camera flaw that just happened to work(?).]  Her life is explained to her as the product of a secret society’s plan to hail “His return” with her prophesied sacrifice.

As with most short films, I view this as something of a “taste” of what a director or writer might be able to do with a feature length budget, a hired writer and better trained actors (our present stars have no other professional credits) at their disposal.  The dialogue is rather over-explanatory, perhaps a necessary evil to convey a lot of exposition in a short period of time.

Mother, leader of the Order of the Ram, provides all of the story’s exposition. Functionally, she is the sole storyteller.  Mother gets most of the lines and is, unfortunately, not at all convincing.  But there’s more beneath the surface this film–a great potential.

The occult wardrobe feels too clean as if just removed from its plastic packaging.  In fact, it feels “fake.”  But we can’t let this budgetary constraint obscure Lyus’ vision.  So while the sacrificial dagger, the dark Bible and the cultists’ masks and garbs appear to be purchased from a costume store or Hot Topic, this shouldn’t be perceived as a flaw.

In staring past the limited resources and rigid-at-best acting behind this film’s production I recognized a story concept, proper staging, and attempts at shots that would make me comfortable finding the present filmmakers with more of a budget to flex their latent talents.  The story isn’t at all original, but original isn’t always what pleases.  Sometimes it’s telling the same old story in a different way that stokes our fiery interests.  The Shrine (2010; another cult/sacrifice-driven film) did exactly that and was well-received.  Should a larger budget find this project, I’d suggest casting none of the original actors and taking on a writer to expand Lyus’ concept and replace exposition with more subtlety.  This would also broaden the ideas available to Lyus’ directorial vision in painting a complicated plot.

What I’d like to see explored most is a concept that occupied only minutes of this film: the idea that throughout Mary’s entire life all of her friends and peers knew she’d ultimately be sacrificed.  Just wondering how one would approach presenting this effectively and credibly in a feature length film makes me want to throw money at this project.

It’s easy to criticize short films and their filmmakers are brave to put them out there before us with such limited backing.  Let’s not peevishly nibble at the low-hanging critical fruit.  Let’s instead think of what “could be” as we watch them.  I want to see more of the ideas that “could be” in this film.

Anyone interested in viewing this short film should make their request to writer/director Scott Lyus (Twitter @scottlyus).  The video is presently not available to the public.

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