Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the horror themed short The Mill at Calder’s End (2015). Since it reveals very little, I will turn to IMDB for a plot description:
Nicholas Grimshaw has returned home to unearth the dark secret of the Mill at Calder’s End.
As can easily be inferred from the above description, the story here is fairly simple. In fact, many of the twists and turns of the plot feel as if they stepped out of the pulp magazines of yesteryear. We have our brooding protagonist, our family secrets, our quest, and our antagonists (both ethereal and corporeal) all present and accounted for. Add to that a first person narrative, a common narrative device in the pulps, and one feels as if they are watching the browned pages of a flimsy magazine come to life right in front of their eyes. Amazingly, the well-worn plot never comes across as dull, but maintains a charm throughout.
To be honest, the charm mostly springs from the fact that the directors decided to use puppets to tell their tale. The puppets themselves operate on rods which near the beginning of the film are never once seen, but about halfway through become more apparent. As such, the opening had me curious as to what exactly I was watching. Given the level of detail given to the faces of each puppet, I momentarily could not tell if they were real actors or some sort of hyper realistic Claymation. To some, this might be off putting, but stylistically it works so well for the film that I never once found it to be a distraction or detractor. When one considers that puppets were often used in days of old to tell some of Grimm’s horrific fairytales, it seems only fitting to see them used here to tell an equally disturbing story.
The horror itself mostly consists of creating an escalating feeling of dread. The color palette sets, and even puppet designs themselves are all advancing a certain dark and stern cruelty that was a common theme in gothic literature. Unlike most Gothic fiction, they do deliver the goods when it comes to the antagonists even if they were not (to me, anyways) the scariest part of the film By the end of the feature it is clear that the real scares are not in making an audience jump, but instead making them fear the inevitable.
All in all, this is probably the best short I have ever seen (and I have seen a lot) so I highly recommend that anyone who likes horror, Gothic fiction, pulp magazines, or puppetry watch this immediately.
-The Creeping Craig