Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: The Facts In the Case Of Mister Hollow

Just when you think that there's no more originality in horror films, a gem works its way up through the festival circuit and surprises everyone. Three, in fact. The Demonology of Desire, The Eyes of Edward James, and The Facts In the Case Of Mister Hollow are short films directed by Rodrigo Gudino, founder and original Editor-In-Chief of long-running horror publication Rue Morgue Magazine. First premiering at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, all three shorts have garnered critical acclaim as well as rave reviews from the horror community. I have yet to view Demonology or Edward James, but I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Mister Hollow. Something's not quite right about this photograph.

The film's subject is a single sepia-toned photograph, with the details suggesting that it was taken in the early 1930s. At first, everything looks innocent enough: a man is crouching on the left-hand side, attempting to start a fire; a young couple is waving at the photographer while the woman tenderly holds her infant; and another gentleman stands nearby, observing their parked car. As the camera begins to zoom in on the setting, however, it becomes clear that something is very, very wrong. The photo changes ever so slightly, warping our perceptions of the scene, and what initially seemed like a carefree candid moment begins to morph into a tale of kidnapping, murder, and pagan ritual. There is no dialogue and no sound effects. The clever almost-animation and creepy instrumental soundtrack are perfect for getting the point across.

To be realistic, there's no way anyone could make a feature-length film this way. No audience would have that kind of patience, nor would a filmmaker be able to keep up the suspense for an hour and a half with a still photograph. This concept was made for the short film format, and it's a knockout. The story was even better the second time around, as I tried to pick out clues before the camera could make them obvious. The devil is in the details, and while some things are impossible to notice until the film gets to them, there's a lot more available to the viewer at the start than one might suppose. It's not easy to tell how much of the set was physically present during the shoot and how much was added in post-production, but the camera movements felt smooth and the effects are so low-key, you'll hardly notice them.

The music was a wonderful accompaniment to the image. Supplied by musician Johnny Hollow (the titular photographer's namesake), it was suitably deceptive and moody. Acting isn't really the first thing that comes to mind when one watches this short, since the characters don't speak and barely move. Still, everyone involved must have put some serious thought into how their character was going to be portrayed. Body language counts for a lot here, and the difference between a grimace and a squint-eyed smile is huge.

The Facts In the Case Of Mister Hollow is disturbing, innovative, beautiful, and less than five minutes long. It's available on DVD from Rue Morgue Cinema along with the two other shorts Gudino has directed. If they're anything like our friend Hollow, the question is not whether you should buy the DVD, but how many copies.

Here's the trailer. Look closely...

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