Three minimalist lessons in horror

AUGUST 5 ― After almost two to three months of almost unrelentless assault from big budget Hollywood summer movies, it’s kind of refreshing to just take a detour and enjoy the smaller delights of low budget film-making.

I’ve always made it a point to do some palate cleansing in between all those tentpole films, usually in the form of arthouse and foreign language films, but also sometimes in horror films.

Yes, horror films are in general formulaic by nature, the familiarity of its rules making it such a beloved genre all over the world, but there will always be the brave few who try to either subvert the rules or play around with them to try and create something fresh.

The low budgets that are the norm in horror film-making also sometimes force film-makers to find creative ways to turn that to an advantage, and what a sweet coincidence for me to have stumbled upon a group of minimalist horror films, mostly set in one location with just two or three main characters that prove that all you really need is a simple idea and the talent and conviction to execute it.

A Dark Song

A debut film of quite astonishing power, A Dark Song consists of nothing more than just two people, a big old house, and a whole load of witchcraft/occult mumbo-jumbo to keep your interest throughout its 100-minute running time.

What writer-director Liam Gavin managed to do with such simple ingredients is craft a wholly involving, emotional and scary ride into the world of the supernatural, magic and of course, witchcraft.

It’s about a woman who rents an isolated, big old house for a year, and engages the services of an occultist who can guide her to a prolonged magic ritual, to be done inside that house of course, with the caveat that they can only leave the house once the whole thing is done.

What that ritual is for and who/what it will summon, I’ll leave it for you to find out. What I can say is that, unlike most other magic/witchcraft oriented films out there, the ritual is the whole movie here.

Gavin carefully spreads out the characters’ back story, leaving the viewers entirely immersed in the specifics and technicality of the Abramelin ritual that the characters chose to perform here, which makes for a really intriguing watch, and ends on a truly magical note, whether you think what’s happening is a result of the characters hallucinating or for real.

Another Evil

Yes, it may start to sound like a theme is forming here, but this is also essentially a movie about two people, a big old house and a whole load of witchcraft/occult mumbo-jumbo, only this time instead of trying to summon something the characters here are trying to cast something out of the house.

Also a feature film debut, this time from writer-director Carson D. Mell (who cut his teeth writing for shows like Eastbound & Down and Silicon Valley), Another Evil is a surprisingly successful and entertaining blend of comedy and horror.

The beginning didn’t really hint at the comic bits in store later on in the film, as the main character Dan, a painter, encounters a ghost in his family’s vacation home and then begins to look for possible solutions to this problem.

That solution comes in the form of an exorcist named Os, and when the pair spends time alone in the vacation home to get rid of the demons, only then does the director start to mess around with our heads, resulting in a film that’s part The Conjuring and part The Cable Guy. Both hilarious and scary, I’d love to see what Mell’s next project is going to be like.

It Stains The Sands Red

I love The Vicious Brothers (a writing and directing collaboration between Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz). Anyone who can pull off a one-two punch as excellent as Grave Encounters and its sequel Grave Encounters 2 will always have a place in my good books, and accrue enough good credit to excuse a mild disappointment like Extraterrestrial, which seemed like an attempt at a big budget calling-card that felt like they were trying a bit too hard to reach out and touch the stars.

They’ve certainly come back to Earth now, or the desert specifically, for their latest film It Stains The Sands Red. A zombie apocalypse film with essentially only two main characters (one human, one zombie) for the majority of the film’s duration, the Brothers have managed to craft a wholly fresh but very minimalist take on the zombie genre (something that I haven’t seen since the brilliant The Battery in 2013), which consists of nothing more than the leading lady walking around in the desert, closely followed by a ravenous zombie (it’s of the slow variety here, not the fast ones like in 28 Days Later and Train To Busan), looking for an airfield to get on an airplane to Mexico after Vegas has been overrun by zombies.

What transpires between the two will leave you surprised and touched, although the Brothers did regretfully commit a pretty big misstep by carrying on with the film (LOTR: Return of the King-style) a good 10 to 15 minutes after it has already found its perfect ending.

It still didn’t spoil the film though, so do look it up if you want to see something a little bit different in the zombie genre.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles

Up Next