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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Horror Short "The Quiet" Delivers Stunning Visuals and Tension By The Boatload

"THE QUIET"
Length: 21:14
Company: I'm With Them Productions
Website: Official Site


"VULNERABLE FEMALE"

Writer/director Lee Matthews and producer Rachael Groom of I'm With Them Productions have scored artistic successes with such short films as celebrated Award winning "Shrove Tuesday" and "3:00 AM".  Their latest, "The Quiet", is the final film in what is being called the "Vulnerable Female" horror trilogy.  Does it live up to the hype of the stellar production values and sheer freak out of their previous work?

Let's check it out, shall we?

BEAUTY IN SIMPLICITY

"The Quiet" continues the simple story, complex delivery tradition of the first two "Vulnerable Female" shorts.  It's a story told as long as time itself, not unlike an effective little campfire chiller, or a bogeyman tale a parent cooks up to rein in their headstrong child.  The beauty of "The Quiet" is in its simplicity and down to earth delivery.

As the film opens, we are introduced to Alice (played effectively by young Jenni-Lea Finch) -- a deaf, bullied high schooler trapped in a school bus, surrounded on all sides by her mean spirited peers.  We learn so much about Alice in these opening moments, and it's all conveyed without a word.  The sound used to convey her deafness is effective and not annoying at all.  In fact, it draws us into her world. 

This sequence is probably one of the most effective in the film.  With tight, close shots of Alice, her iPhone, her bullies, and the text messages, we are drawn to her.  We make a connection with her immediately.  She's the anchor for the rest of the film, and thankfully Finch, despite her character being somewhat one dimensional, can actually act, too, despite her young age.

Her normal daily routine is to ride the bus to a predetermined spot, and then get off and wait for her mother to pick her up by car.  All is well, right?  It's just another day in the life.

Sadly, not so much.  This is a horror movie, so things go wrong very quickly.  She forgets her iPhone on the bus.  Her mother never arrives to pick her up.  Alice takes a walk, and a menacing stranger begins to stalk her. 

NO SHORTAGE OF TIME

In previous reviews, I've mentioned that there just isn't much time in a short film to deliver suspense because, by definition, you have to be able to drag things out to provide a palpable sense of dread for the viewer.  "3:00 AM" suffered from this, and it seems like I'm With Them Productions has expanded the formula for their horror films and done so perfectly.  While the film is three times as long as "3:00 AM", you never once feel the time pass by.

Lee Matthews once again handles triple duty.  He writes (adapted from a story by Alison Cochran), directs and edits, and the result is nothing short of amazing.  Often times, the director has to work with an editor, but when the director is able to do the editing himself, he can cut and paste his scenes down to the finest second.

The result is a lean, mean horror package reminiscent in some ways of stalk and slash flicks like Alexander Aja's High Tension, Greg McLean's Wolf Creek and Steven Mena's Malevolence.  Matthews and Groom wisely do away with the "idiotic characters stuffed into the storyline just to be unceremoniously murdered graphically five minutes later" trope, and stick to what really works in these kinds of pictures: watching someone sympathetic be stalked by a ruthless and sinister force. 

CONFLICT, CONFLICT, CONFLICT . . .

"Force" is an apt word for the stalker in "The Quiet".  Alice is a young girl, maybe a freshman in high school, if that, and she's petite and pretty for her age.  I felt a knot in my stomach watching her flee her attacker, dodging in and out of abandoned buildings and hiding places in the woods.   In many cases, I would complain about the lack of genuine conflict -- yes, Alice is being chased, and she is fleeing, but there's little she can do about her situation.

That being said, the lack of a two way conflict turns out to be one of the biggest strengths of "The Quiet" in my opinion: you can believe this is really happening.  It ceases to be a movie after a while, in the best moments, and you are honestly in the dirt with Alice, knowing honestly that there's no way she'll ever win against this human monster, who we know mostly through shots of his grimy shoes and worn blue jeans.
 
I can't help but wonder if choosing the name Alice was intentionally referencing the Friday the 13th film series.  The protagonist of the first film's name was Alice, for those who don't know, and she was also a redhead, and in the beginning of Friday the 13th Part II, she was stalked by  Jason Voorhees, also clad in blue jeans and dirty shoes.

Even if it's unintentional, it's a fun way to place "The Quiet" in a long and triumphant tradition of stalker films.

I AM FREAKING OUT OVER HERE

"The Quiet" takes everything that worked in "3:00 AM" and amps it to eleven.  We have absolutely gorgeous scenery, once again capturing a green loneliness that delivers a great vibe to an otherwise straight forward horror picture.   I simply cannot get over the expert artistry on display here -- the wide shot at 12:36 of the sunset is just breathtaking.  Add to the arresting image some tension that bubbles over and a few effective chase sequences (love the water bottle stomp shot, by the way), and you have a well designed, professionally shot and completely enjoyed short stalker flick.

The soundtrack is a big deal, also.  "Tarmac" by Beth Fouracre is pitch perfect for the mood of "The Quiet", and I actually watched the end credits twice just to hear it again.   All the sound is professionally synched to the images onscreen and the audio is mixed properly so you can hear everything you need to hear. 

NOBODY'S PERFECT . . .


"The Quiet" rocked my world, but it's not without its faults.   First of all, Finch's performance is rock
solid at first, but her expression remains startlingly the same throughout the chase.  She looks freaked out, but more like "A spider is crawling on my leg" freaked, not "There's a pervert who wants to kill me" freaked.   And while she is deaf, when the stalker surprises her by grabbing her face, she doesn't even scream. 

It took me out of the film, but it was easy to get back into the mood of the film.  

My other issue is the final quarter of the film.  There is a short scene toward the end that provides some context for what we've just seen.  It's a grim few moments, where Alice's mother (played well by Sarah Buckland) and Alice's father's friend, Jon (a nuanced Nigel Long) answer questions from a policeman (Dan Gaisford).   It's a well acted bit that grinds in the dread we've been holding onto for the length of the film thus far.

When we return to the woods, there is an epilogue scene (recalling, once again, Friday the 13th).    I can't go into more detail here, because that would be an insanely huge spoiler, but suffice it to say that we don't know what was happening during the time the scene with her mom took place, and how we got from one case of affairs to this, we don't know.

CONCLUSION


"The Quiet" is a well made, thrilling and disturbing short horror film that never outstays the welcome of its brief running time.  The acting is spot on by and large, the directing and editing are impeccable as is always the case with I'm With Them Productions' output, and the tension is laid on thick as we watch a character we genuinely care about go through the ringer.

It ups the ante started by "Shrove Tuesday" and "3:00 AM", resulting in a concluding offering that more than lives up to the admittedly high expectations of I'm With Them Productions' "Vulnerable Female" horror trilogy.

Overall Scores:

Writing: 3 / 5.  "The Quiet" takes a simple story and wrings out every last bit of tension possible in its twenty minute running time.  It tells so much solely through its amazing visuals.  Despite the fact that the ending is a bit too ambiguous for my tastes, it's a definite win.
Directing: 5 / 5.  There is style and flare all over this picture.  It's not flashy, but the camera keeps moving, and every shot is purposeful and revealing.  The setting is used to the fullest, with some astonishingly beautiful shots of the English countryside.  Brilliant work by Lee Matthews.
Editing: 5/ 5.  The chase scenes are built upon stark, lonely images that emphasize poor Alice's isolation.  The pacing is well done, as well -- we're never bored, and yet we have plenty of time to scan the scene, looking for where the stalker is going to appear.  It's this attention to the ebb and flow of the story that really delivers this piece: sure, Matthews can go quick cut when he wants to, but at the same time he has the maturity to know when to stop and linger.  That jump scare with the red car was all the more effective because of this.
Sound/Music: 4.5 / 5.  The sound design was professionally done and did what it needed to.  There wasn't that much in the way of music, but Beth Fouracre's "Tarmac" was essential.  While the audio in "3:00 AM" was good, Fouracre's work felt organic to "The Quiet".  I loved it. 
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Finch was good as Alice, but I wasn't entirely sold that she felt she was in danger.  She needed to show more emotion on her face.  Nigel Long, Sarah Buckland and Dan Gaisford all did well in their roles. 

Final Grade: 4.2 / 5.  Movies like "The Quiet" are the reason why I run this website: they're truly impressive independent productions that deliver the goods and make you forget you're watching a movie.  It's not a perfect horror film, but it's pretty darn close.

Watch the full length film on YouTube and learn more about the "Vulnerable Female" horror trilogy at I'm With Them Productions' official website or their Facebook page!


Check out our very own review of "3:00 AM" and our exclusive interview with writer/director/editor Lee Matthews!

"The Quiet" will also be screened at CineMe Cinema Showcase at Henleaze Cinema in Bristol this year.  If you can make it out there, I highly recommend it.  Check out the details below and visit CineMe's Facebook page!




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!