John’s Horror Corner: Scythe (2016), a Short Film assessing tropes and seeking your support.
Disclaimer: This review was solicited by the filmmakers. However, my opinion remains unbiased as I was neither hired nor paid to produce this critical review.
MY CALL: This promising slasher short film largely offers aspects of horror tropes that I enjoy. If you feel the same, consider contributing to their Kickstarter Campaign. MORE INDIE MOVIES LIKE Scythe: Here at MFF we occasionally do horror short film and pre-release indie film reviews on request. Among recent solicited promotions are Order of the Ram (2013; short film), Love in the Time of Monsters (2014; feature length), In the Dark (2015; feature length), Trailer Talk: The Void, TRAILER TALK: Blood Money, Short Film Buzz: Burn (2016; press release), Brother (2016; short film), and the indie techno-horror Other Halves (2016; feature length).
Description: Directed/written by Jim Rothman and starring Jose C. Alvarez, Zailee Madrigal and Andrea Muller, Scythe is a psychological Slasher/Thriller in the same vein of Halloween (1978), Saw (2004) and the work of Hitchcock.
I always get nervous with the solicited screening/reviewing of short films. My first worry is the acting quality, which thankfully was solid right out of the gates as we meet two college girls much like some of those we’ve known. One (Zailee Madrigal) being laid back and carefree, the other (Andrea Muller) is clearly more high strung as we see her insecurities organically unfold.
Right about now would be a good time for you to stop reading and give this short film a watch. No worries, it’s just a smooth 12 minutes. Then we’ll get back to our critique…
Just after she leaves to walk home across campus that evening, Breaking News reveals the “Grim Reaper killer” has escaped. That’s trope #1. And just after getting a warning call from her friend the tropes get heavy as the acting falters a step (with the urgency) and she loses cell service in the middle of Pasadena (not likely). That’s rope #2. Then, as she lowers her phone realizing her call is totally lost, she sees the killer in a classic Michael Myers throwback shot. And that’s #3. I’m gonna’ forgive that one, though, because I just might have liked it.
This “meet the killer” shot is nice and the scoring compliments it smoothly. But overall the camerawork feels pretty basic. It’s not at all bad, mind you. But it boasts proficiency and honorarium over innovation–not that it’s necessary to use clever camera angles and wraparound shots to make an effective horror movie. Right after a stare down with the stranger, a streetlight goes out. Should I put “4” on the scoreboard for team Trope? Actually….no.
The opening acting quality was a relief but the Breaking News had me rolling my eyes. Why should we forgive it? Because this short film is only 12 minutes and we only have so long to get to know our characters, introduce the enemy, and get on with conflict, chase, murder or escape. Sometimes you need a quick street sign to say “Killer Here” just to get on with it. But when the streetlight goes out it violates our troped up expectations…for whereas it nods to evil snuffing out the light, we (and she) can still see the killer.
When she gets home and feels safe momentarily, her phone works again…but the power is out! When she thinks someone else is in the house, her phone doesn’t work again. Then the power comes back on…aaaaaaaand we’ve been yo-yoed out of our comfort zone and what falls in our lap but a playful surprise ending? It was a fun startle. We knew something was about to happen when our victim was so relieved (and we also knew this short has already been going for 10 minutes), we just didn’t know exactly how it would happen. I was pleased with how this was handled. And maybe I was briefly antagonized by the frustrating on-and-off phone service and convenient power outage that only seemed to only affect her house (which was explained), but it built to a satisfying end.
Isn’t that what matters–our feeling at the end of the journey? We can quibble all day about pedantic tropes and think to ourselves “oh, that’s four I count now, I see what they’re doing.” But we can’t let ourselves get caught up in that because sometimes when we look back, we appreciate those tropes as well-received nods rather than conveniences played in lieu of creativity. Often the creativity is in how the trope is served.
If you want to be a part of something in the world of horror THIS IS YOUR CHANCE.
Visit their Kickstarter Campaign (up until early May 2016)
As of 4/13/2016 they have raised $11K of their $50K goal!
Our lead actress (Andrea Muller) does the lion’s share of the acting and, fortunately, she gives the most consistent and convincing performance. She did a great job. I must aim my greatest criticism at the supporting actress (Zailee Madrigal), who did well but clearly handled the opening scene better than her subsequent scene (i.e., the panicked phone call). This may sound overly critical, but short films suffer more often than feature length because we’ve had less time to engage our main characters and cultivate an investment in them. Moreover the actors themselves have less time and material to cumulatively build their own investment. However, here I readily identified with our star and never found myself apathetic to her survival.
I often comment that “the fledgling director has much to offer in terms of [BLANK]” or that “I like what they were trying to do, but perhaps with a larger budget…” But here I have little criticism outside of aforementioned minor issues. And can I just say how awesome Andrea Muller was? Nice work. All that remains is for these filmmakers to move forward and make a feature length film or a longer (perhaps 20-30 min) short film out of this. I’d certainly like to see it!
Also, just as a sidenote, anyone who thinks this is a fluff review because I’m flattered to have been asked to review this…you’re quite wrong. Just check out my previous solicited reviews (all hyperlinked above). You’ll find that I’m quite critical (even at times brutally honest) but fair to the merits presented. And these filmmakers and actors have shown the kind of merits I want to see more.
The killer looks pretty hokey at the end, but come on…it’s a 12 minute short. LOL. Give them a budget and let’s see what they can do!