Dark Film Review: Agatha (2016)
Review written by Casey Douglass
Much as short stories strive to tell something interesting in a shorter period than a novel, the task of creating a short film sees the luxury of time thrown out of the window and the creator having to effectively condense key information and emotion into minutes rather than hours. Horror writer and director Timothy Vandenburg has managed to do just this with his 8 minute short horror film Agatha, which debuted at Screamfest a few months ago. I was kindly given the chance to watch it myself, and you can find my thoughts about the film below.
The film description is as follows:
The orphan train comes daily, spilling hundreds of children onto the streets of Pennsylvania in the late 1800’s. Desperate and alone, the penniless 7 year old Sophie, entrusts an older woman who hires her to bring food each night to someone living in her attic. There is just one rule: Do not pass the serving table….EVER. As time passes, the child’s curiosity grows bold; drawing her closer to discovering the truth behind the prisoner.
The first thing that impressed me with Agatha was the soundtrack. Horror films often have soundtracks that appeal to me, and this is probably the reason why, alongside heavy metal, the dark ambient genre is a staple of mine. The opening screens of Agatha feature some truly ominous swells of dark sound design, the kind that actually deepens the scene rather than sounding like something ill-fitting and superfluous. While I’m on the topic of sound in general, Agatha has a genuinely succulent sound-scheme, creaking stairs and toothy crunching sounds all adding heft to the events unfolding in the narrative. There is also some ungodly singing, which is genuinely very creepy.
There is little dialogue in Agatha, and what there is comes quickly after the film’s start as Sophie is questioned, and then lectured, by the woman who is about to employ her. The job is to carry food to the room at the top of the stairs, place it on the table, and leave. This is where the rules are laid down: The order not to speak, not to make a sound, and not to pass the serving table. I’ll admit I had mental visions of the rules being laid down in Gremlins at this point, but only because that is such a “go to” film when you might think about rules and cinema. It definitely left me curious to see what might happen if the rules were broken. A plate of meat is duly placed in Sophie’s hand and her journey to the top of the house begins, accompanied by the aforementioned lovely creaking stairs. When she enters the top room, a wheezing figure is seen laying on a bed behind the serving table, the one that must not be passed. Sophie leaves the food and exits the room, and it is after this that we see that the figure is chained. To say much more would tempt the gods of spoilerville, but suffice it to say that it’s a chore that she carries out again and again, until the film reaches its grim conclusion.
Any gaps in the narrative left by the absence of speech are artfully filled by visual storytelling cues that linger in shot at various intervals in the film. While being a short film no doubt increases the necessity for this kind of storytelling, it is used in Agatha to inform, hint at time passing and provide emotional flavour to the film’s conclusion. It also leaves some questions unanswered, leaving you wondering why this is all happening and who these people really are. Agatha also managed to subvert my expectations on a couple of occasions which also left me appreciating the direction that it had taken.
Agatha is now beginning its fest journey, and efforts are also afoot to turn it in a feature length film. If the feature length version is any bit as interesting and well designed as the short, I very much look forward to seeing it, and I recommend that anyone who finds themselves with the chance to view Agatha in the coming months to take it, it is 8 minutes well spent. I give Agatha 5/5.
Fangoria was exclusively given the trailer for Agatha which is something you can watch from their YouTube channel below: