When I was younger, I never really went to “summer camp”; around here, we just got a lot of family and/or friends together and went camping. Now I’m talking old-school, the-ground-is-your-bed and what-you-carry-on-your-back-is-what-you’ve-got camping; strictly miles out in the woods, no cell phones, tablets, cook stoves or RVs. In this environment, the groups I was with always fell back on the old standby of the “ghost stories” told around the fire before turning in. I’m pretty sure that most of you Fellow Fans out there have had some kind of youthful experiences that can equate to this; such memories play a big part in the making of a horror fan. These old tales are positively ripe for adaptation as short films, but oddly I haven’t seen many of this ilk. Perhaps a lot of modern filmmakers find the old adages a little trite for today’s audiences; how many times can you tell The Golden Arm? How many variations of The Monkey’s Paw can be written?
Fortunately, Daniel Brown and his peeps at Wide Eyed Pictures saw such a challenge as an opportunity, and created the tight and deliberate short film The First Step.
Sara, a bright young girl of twelve or thirteen, and her mother have just moved into a large, older home in what looks like a fairly normal suburban neighborhood. Although I said “older”, don’t take that to mean the typical dilapidated creepy ol’ “haunted house”; on the contrary, it looks like a pretty nice place; nothing wrong with it that a coat of paint wouldn’t fix. Their first night in (with boxes strewn everywhere as is always the case for what seems like forever when moving), Sara’s mom is preparing dinner and sends her daughter into the basement to find the garlic mincer. Sara does as she’s asked, but is convinced she heard something…strange while down in the darkness. Her mother assures her that it’s an old house, and old houses settle; there’s nothing to be afraid of. Later that night, we watch as Sara prepares for bed; soon after crawling under the blankets, she again hears the noises she heard earlier. With resolve, she repeats her mother’s words from earlier: “It’s just an old house settling…it’s just an old house settling…”. This comforts her enough to lie back down, but that comfort is short-lived; the noises grow louder…closer…more personal…
A short film is, by definition, a low-budget film; of course, this doesn’t mean that talented filmmakers and actors can’t take a sow’s ear and make a silk purse from it, and by and large that is the case with this little movie. I was impressed with the camera work and the lighting, and a particular tip o’ the hat to the sound design; the house that was so warm and cozy as mom prepared a nice dinner became cavernous and sinister in the darkness, strange angles and terrifying sounds turning the home into a place of shadows and unseen threats. The acting was solid and convincing; Payton Walker, in the role of Sara, has a bright future; this part could have very easily been over-acted or trivialized.
This was not the case; she presented the character with resolve and intelligence, but still age-appropriate in the circumstances. I can’t talk much about things like special effects or makeup without violating my no-spoiler policy, but I will say that what is seen may well not impress hardcore horror folks; however, if you are into the spirit of the film and the child’s perspective that it comes from, you’ll find what is there to be quite effective. I personally thought the effects used were suitably chilling; considering again the budgetary constraints of a short film, I found them most impressive.
I’d heard a variation on this story many years ago, but the version I’d heard involved a brazen hunter in an old cabin…so I was kind of taken off-guard when this story went in the direction that it did, but in a really good way. It was a nostalgic moment when that memory and the creep factor associated with it was brought back to the surface, if even for a bit. Brown has said that this is his company’s first foray into the purely horror genre; a “first step” indeed, wanting to go back to basics and create a fearful tale that could be enjoyed by all ages. I feel their efforts are a success; if this is what they have to show for their freshman effort into horror films, I will most assuredly be watching for what they come up with next with anticipation.
Like any film, this one isn’t for everyone; if you’re a hardcore gorehound or one of those that has to have solid resolutions to your stories, this one isn’t for you. However, if you’re like me and still remember what it was like to wonder what those sounds were in the night, this little flick will reach in, grab that primal fear switch, and get under your skin…
…just don’t let it get under your bed. 🙂