“The Tell-Tale Heart” (2020) Horror Short Film Review

Tell-tale signs of outstanding cinematic talent right here! I don’t often choose to write a formal review of short films for which I receive screeners. Usually, I Tweet my thoughts on the film when I receive a request from an eager filmmaker who’s interested in what Professor Horror, as I’ve come to be known on #FilmTwitter, has to say about his or her motion picture endeavor. Writer-Director McClain Lindquist crafts a wholly original expression of the familiar macabre tale. While there have been many adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, this is arguably one of the best and freshest interpretations of the masterful storytelling of Poe. I appreciate this adaptation for its fresh take on a familiar story whilst delivering the visceral horror and intellectually-driven elements of the bizarre tale of murder. Every nuance of Poe’s short story is depicted with sheer reverence for the source material, while delivering an original expression of the timeless literary work.

Lindquist reimagines this story through the lens of a David Lynchian approach (with the color pallet of David Fincher), delivering vibes of Muholland Drive. While there are clearly some cracks in the veneer related to the time period in which this story takes place, these cracks are insignificant enough not to detract from the overall cinematic experience. Lindquist should have selected either a modern or gothic period in which to set his adaptation. Actor Sonny Grimsley (what a great last name for horror) not only brings the words of The Narrator to the screen, but he talks to the audience with such incredible sincerity that the utter madness of it all is visualized beautifully. One of the points I hammer in my screenwriting class is dramatize don’t tell. Dramatizing means more than showing the audience the story, it means finding the conflict in every beat of every scene. Fortunately for this adaptation, Grimsley brilliantly dramatizes every word spoken in such a manner that you will be completely enveloped in the twisted tale to which he beckons you to listen.

Both the cinematography and stylistic editing are on point, and compliment the tone wonderfully. Although there are a number of standout moments from the film, I want to highlight how the duality of the narrator was expressed dramatically through the use of costuming and set design as well as a mirror. It would be all too easy for The Narrator to express his duality through verbal exposition (as this is taken from a short story), but the creative choice to couple the words of Poe with these striking images shows a strong knowledge of how to effectively go from page to screen. Often short films suffer from poorly executed technical elements, but I am pleased to report that all technical elements demonstrate an exemplary understanding of the art and science of cinematic storytelling. In addition to the technical elements is the haunting and unsettling score by Joel Pack. Lacking a true score is all too commonplace in many short films; not so with Lindquists’s The Tell-Tale Heart, Pack’s score is a character in and of itself. However, it never steals the scene, which allows the audience to become fully wrapped up in everything The Narrator says and does. I love seeing practical effects in all films, but especially horror. Thankfully, there are plenty of gruesome special makeup effects in this film for even the most insatiable appetite for gore, which never falling into the gratuitous category.

Lindquist certainly knows how to capture the madness in The Tell-Tale Heart. In many of Poe’s works, madness is often represented a lack of sufficient reasoning for committing murder or some other undesirable behavior. Lindquist illustrates The Narrator’s madness through the unreasonable rationale he uses to justify the murder of his roommate. Not only do we hear about the attempt at rationalization, it is dramatized for the screen. The only reason the narrator provides, in an attempt to justify the murder, is the simple fact that the roommate’s blind eye covered with a murky blue film bothers him a great deal–haunts him, even. He goes onto explain that he feels that he is being watched all the time. Being angered by the man’s eye is such a petty reason for the narrator to murder him, which proves that he is mentally unstable. Developing his plan for over a week, his madness is further represented through the meticulous premeditation of the method of murder. Furthermore, when The Narrator initially proposes that the “vulture eye” is his motive for murdering his roommate, he is not even fully certain that this was indeed his reason for committing the murder. And through the direction of Lindquist and the impeccable performance by Grimsley, we get into the mind of a madman in terrifying ways that are sure to induce nightmares.

Lindquist’s The Tell-Tale Heart is evidence of a future successful career as a horror filmmaker. I am eager to follow his filmography as he will hopefully use this short film as a springboard to write and direct original content, because we need more original storytellers in this sea of remakes and reboots.

The Tell-Tale Heart plans to release on select streaming platforms Fall 2020. Checkout the trailer!

  • Director: McClain Lindquist
  • Cinematographer: Joseph Olivas
  • Editors: Joel Petrie & Raymund Delmar
  • Sound Effects: Jacob Proctor
  • Makeup Effects: Ambira Powell
  • Music: Joel Pack

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Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“KIN” movie review

Too little plot spread across too much movie. Although I have not seen the short film Bag Man on which this movie is based, it is clear that there were many good elements in the short but unfortunately not enough plot, character development, nor turning points were added to take this short, and turn it into a feature length science-fiction urban fantasy movie. The pacing is inconsistent. My friend who screened the film with me last night likes to refer to this concept as the accordion dilemma. Long, drawn out boring parts that are quickly pushed together for an exciting moment, then stretched out again. Personally, watching this movie felt like sitting on the I-4 between Orlando and Tampa. There is also the concern that the film is depicting the wrong image for young men. One can easily read this movie as a troubled young man, with an ex-con brother and grieving father, who only feels powerful when he has a firearm at his side. Not the kind of message we want to send to young people. Had the film focussed more on character development, and the relationship between the two brothers, then this may have made a solid drama. As it stands, the film sits at an uncomfortable crossroads between genres that ultimately fails to deliver a memorable movie.

When salvaging one of the hundreds of vacant buildings in run-down Detroit, Elijah (Myles Truitt) stumbles across the remains of a battle between futuristic-looking soldiers. Near the soldiers is a powerful ray gun that he claims as his own. At home, his father (Quaid) is still grieving over the loss of his wife and troubled over the return of his other son, now ex-con Jimmy (Reynor). When Jimmy asks his father for $60K to pay off a gang that protected him in prison ran by Taylor Bolek (Franco), his father tells him to get a job. When Jimmy executes a plan to acquire the money by arranging a heist with the Taylor’s gang, and things go wrong, Jimmy finds himself on the run. Fearful for his brother’s life, Jimmy persuades Elijah to come on a road trip to Lake Tahoe where the plan is to meet their father later on. Soon, both brothers find themselves running for their lives from a sadistic gang and other-worldly soldiers. Fortunately, Elijah has a weapon that will do more than simply protect and destroy.

The Baker brothers have included many effective elements for telling their story in this film; however, proper pacing, a sense of urgency, character and plot development are not connected fluidly. Furthermore, there are many sequences of just driving–endless driving. Much like the Hobbit movies featured lots of scenes of running. My favorite scene in the movie is when Jimmy is teaching Elijah how to drive, and has him doing donuts in the parking lots of a seedy motel. The look on Elijah’s face was priceless, and it was in that moment that a real connection was felt between the brothers. Otherwise, the rest of the scenes in the movie are forgettable. Even the “sci-fi twist” that is referenced in marketing materials feels more like a mechanical explanation than a resolution that packs a punch.

Visually, the film worked. Clearly, the Baker brothers have sufficient experience at communicating messages through imagery–and no mistaking it–that is incredibly important to a motion picture. This is likely due to their experience in directing commercials, which successfully tell stories in 30secs or less. Unlike other science-fiction films that rely almost entirely on digital effects, in a refreshing manner, the Baker brothers pair the practical with the digital to create a sense of realism in the film. Even the futuristic weapons and other technology feel grounded in reality–they play by the same rules of physics we do. The film may suffer from a terrible screenplay; but it excels in areas such as cinematography and editing. Not entirely sure what possessed a studio junior executive to green-light this, but I imagine they won’t be green-lighting projects for a while now. From what I’ve been told about the short film, the ending of this feature adaptation was changed. My guess is that it was changed in order to setup a sequel–a sequel that we will probably never be seen if the film does poorly this weekend at the box office.

If you enjoy science-fiction urban fantasy movies, then you may find some entertainment value in this. The movie works better as the pilot to a limited run series on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime than a feature film. Perhaps that is where this story will wind up. With changes to the screenplay, it could find a life on a streaming service; but as feature film, it did not deliver the simple plot and complex characters needed.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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