Pages

Monday, April 1, 2013

"3:00 AM" Delivers Frights After Midnight!

"3:00 AM"
Length: 10:46
Company: I'm With Them Productions
Website: imwiththemproductions.com


A Bump in the Night . . .

Horror films have a serious problem.  Too many are more reliant on special effects, gore and overtly disturbing content while disregarding such matters as pacing, suspense and characters that we can root for. 

This happily is not the case for "3:00 AM", one of the latest short films from I'm With Them Productions, a film production company led by Award Winning writer/director/editor Lee Matthews and former BBC producer Rachel Groom.  If you're into flicks that get under your skin and make you question whether that shadow in your bedroom is indeed just a shadow,  then you'll find that I'm With Them's short film does in a little over ten minutes what most big box office scarefests can't manage with a full length movie. 

Frights After Midnight

The story is about as simple as you could possibly imagine.   A young woman named Georgia, played by a very credible Charlotte Armstrong, lives alone in the English countryside.  The opening moments are beautifully shot, perfectly evoking the gorgeous and quite silent countryside.

So she's isolated, you say.  Big deal.

Well there is quite a big deal, you see, because our poor protagonist is losing sleep.  Lots of it.  You see, someone or something is calling her at 3:00 AM sharp, again and again.  Later on, we learn exactly what kind of call this is -- and it's not the slasher film style dirty old man talk or the "I'm upstairs" terror tactics. 

I'm not going to spoil it for you, but it's genuinely frightening, and I guarantee you'll start eyeing your own phone late at night with new eyes.

The visuals in this film are just striking.  Even the trees look lonely in these wide country landscapes, and the long plains slope up and down like a green tidal wave, eternal and endless.  Seemingly equally endless is the night itself, and every scene is broken into great shots handpicked to make the most out of every scare.

And speaking of scares, yes, there are a few.  While most of the film is a slowburn of tension as we
wait for the phone call, there are also some jump scares, but I have to say that there is an odd sound effect that accompanies the moment, and it took me out of the story.  Thankfully, the rest of the film is so well made, professionally shot and well acted that it was easy to slip back into the folds of the horror at hand.

Limitations of the Form

But let's talk about the acting for a moment.   Charlotte Armstrong does what she can, but there's just not that much to do in this picture but look scared.  To her credit, she pulls a surprising amount of nuance in her role, but again, there's not a lot of range necessary here.  This is in part due to the obvious restrictions of such a short film, but her performance in the off-screen phone call at the beginning comes off a little bland.

But a little over half way through, when she discovers the children's toy playing music all on its own, her reactions are priceless.

But to continue to illustrate my point, there's just not a whole lot a filmmaker can do with this type of picture.  It's essentially a haunted house film, and in a haunted house film you follow around the protagonist, who creeps around a spooky house for the bulk of the short running time.

That being said, it's important to note that sometimes, what the story says isn't as important as how it is said, and what I'm With Them Productions has done with "3:00 AM" is something of a marvel.  They pull off a solid haunted house spook show within ten minutes.  Literally everything about this film is professional caliber.  Nothing feels low budget, cheap or "on the nose".

The writing is limited thanks to very little dialogue and not much physical action, but again, that's due to the form in which Matthews is working.

There's only so many ways to scare people with darkness, but "3:00 AM" emerges as a prime example of what these films can be if they are done with this same respect and artistry.

The Beauty of Audio

The soundtrack is solid, and adds a creepiness to those initial, seemingly idyllic scenes at the beginning of the film.  The tinkling music box tune is unnerving as well.

But beyond the music, the sound is where "3:00 AM" really shines.  The film is very dark, at some points pitch black, so what we hear is equally if not more frightening than what we see.

The phone call, when we finally see it, is a great example of this.  You have to watch it.  I'm not going to spoil it for you.


Final Thoughts

Everything about this flick is top notch, and it never oversteps its bounds, never lapses tonally, and is true to what it sets out to do, which is get under your skin and make you jump. 

And maybe look at your telephone a little different when the clock on your bedside table ticks over to 3 . . .

Conclusion

Coming from the Award-Winning team of I'm With Them Productions, "3:00 AM" has a lot to offer, so check it out!  Producer Rachael Groom has been involved with several big time projects for the BBC, and freelance writer, director and all around creative genius Lee Matthews has netted an astonishing nine awards.  They are currently working on their first feature film together entitled They Eat People Don't They?

Overall Scores:

Writing: 3 / 5.  There wasn't a whole lot going on here -- it's basically a haunted house ride, but writer Lee Matthews did as much as is possible to do within the genre.
Directing: 4 / 5.  I really enjoyed the way the camera played with its surroundings.  The visuals were top notch, and every scene felt fully realized and deliberate.  Matthews played it close to the chest and didn't go MTV with this one, which I for one much appreciated. 
Editing: 4 / 5.  The pacing was spot on, and no single scene played too long.  Also, I want to personally thank Matthews for freaking me the heck out with that Jack-in-the-Box.  I jumped.  Just sayin'.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  The soundtrack was good, and it never overstepped its means.  It brought a certain menace to the proceedings.  The only drawback was the jump scare "screech" noises, which pulled me out of the story.
Acting3.5 /5.  Rachael Groom did well as Izzy, present only over the phone, but she performed the part well and sounded genuinely concerned for Georgia's wellbeing.  Charlotte Armstrong played the lead, Georgia, and did well with what she was given for the most part.  She didn't sell that opening phone call for me, but it's a small complaint and other than that, she was spot on.

Final Grade: 3.5 / 5.  "3:00 AM" does its job and does it spectacularly well, but the type of story we're seeing here is one we've seen numerous times before.  That being said, Matthews and Groom put on a darn good show, one that succeeds despite a very low budget (70 pounds, according to their website) thanks to the overwhelming creative strength and professionalism in the story's delivery.  This is one of the finest examples of haunted house filmmaking I've seen, in short or long form. 

For more information on "3:00 AM", including the full length streaming short film, check out I Am With Them Productions' website, YouTube channel, and Facebook page.

Already a fan?  Buy this short film here!



Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!