If you’re going to make a short film, a good place to start would be adapting a short story; if you’re going to do a short horror film, you couldn’t do much better than a short story from the Master of the Macabre himself, Stephen King. Thanks to King’s “Dollar Baby” program, aspiring filmmakers have for years been able to purchase the rights to any of his short stories for one dollar, agreeing that the film would not be exhibited commercially and that King would retain film rights.
Irish writer/director Gerard Lough was one such filmmaker, and (good for me) chose to adapt one of my favorites of King’s short stories, The Boogeyman, from the 1978 collection Night Shift.
We’re introduced to Andrew Billings, a disheveled, embittered man in the office of Dr. Harper, who is obviously a therapist. With a great deal of angst, Billings begins by saying that he’s not here for help, merely to tell his story. Harper calmly acquiesces, and Billings quite bluntly tells the story of how he killed his three children. Not directly, of course; you see, because of the way he chose to raise his children (the old standards of “can’t have a night-light, they’ll grow up to be pansies” type of crap), the proverbial Boogeyman himself came from the closet and murdered them, one at a time, over the last few years. While the doctor maintains a composure of calm detachment, Billings continues his tale, and we are treated to hazy, nightmarish flashbacks accompanied by his voice-over telling of events. The surreal images are both fearsome yet strangely bleak, as we begin to feel life with Billings must have been. His conversation often becomes belligerent, his temper rising over the slightest of things, and his attitudes reveal him to be something of a selfish, prideful, homophobic asshole, with parenting skills straight outta the 1880s. Still, his tale is mesmerizing, and even the clinical demeanor of the doctor slips just slightly a time or two; still, he’s convinced that he can help Mr. Billings, suggesting further appointments…however, it seems that only one more will be necessary…
The film is pretty damned faithful to the source story; other than a character name and one small modernizing update, I saw very little I don’t recall from the short story. While very dialogue-oriented, Lough’s skillful direction and cinematographic decisions make this horror flick work.
There’s very little action, and most of what there is occurs off camera (typically horror-movie death rattles); however, the juxtaposition of the clear, clinical feel of the office against the dreamlike, ambiguous environment of the flashbacks creates an air of unease. The lighting choices, distortion and camera angles in these latter scenes serve to tap our childhood fears, but at the same time make us question the truth of what Billings is saying; often, events we see do not match what his voice-over tells us. Again, both of the speaking actors turn in excellent performances; Simon Fogarty was able to channel facial tics and odd mannerisms into a stellar portrayal of a man both frightened and of questionable rationality, while Michael Parle, as Dr. Harper, had little screen time but used it to great advantage with a very nuanced performance. Throw in a haunting soundtrack that matches the surreal palette of the flashbacks, and you have a combination for terror that really doesn’t require any further exposition.
Personally, the most impressive thing about this short is that despite its minimalism, it succeeds in bringing the story in a way that both entertains and provokes. I’ve read the original short story many times in my life, and have always figured that (typical King) there indeed was some kind of monster hiding in the closet…with this film, Lough made me question that. For the first time, I found myself in the position of relating more to Dr. Harper; dealing with Billings, a man that is quite possibly dangerously disturbed and potentially a murderer of his own children, is as chilling a prospect as any childhood horror made real. At the very least, Billings’ attitudes and confessed neglect could have directly resulted in the deaths, reducing his wild tale to merely an elaborate schizophrenic fantasy to obscure his own guilt. Of course, I may be slow and behind the times, and perhaps this duality was King’s intent all along, but it took this movie to make me see it as such. It’s hell getting old…still, the question remains: is there a monster hiding in our collective closets, or is Billings himself the monster? You’ll have to decide for yourself; the film leaves it deliciously vague.
As with any good short, this one leaves you with questions after it’s over, but it doesn’t piss you off as being “incomplete”.
In the format it was made, this film is only available to be viewed at festivals and the like, but should any of you Fellow Fans ever get the opportunity, you should check this one out; it’s a sterling example of how to visually tell a horror story on a budget.
That’s my spin, folks.
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