Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the horror short AGATHA by writer/director Timothy Vandenberg. The basic plot overview, from the press materials, is as follows:

Desperate and alone, the penniless seven year old Sophie, entrusts an older woman who hires her to bring food each night to someone living in her attic.  There is just one rule: Do not pass the serving table….EVER.

Right from the get-go this short begins establishing its atmosphere with darkened shots around a mansion set to a foreboding score.  Inside the house proves to be no more welcoming than out as dim lighting gives free reign to the encroaching shadows.  Even the mother/daughter photograph holds a darkness to it, as the daughter’s face seems obscured or blurry when compared to that of her progenitor.

We come in on a scene of an orphan learning that to earn her keep; she will have to follow some simple rules.  Like many horror features before, it is made clear that to not follow the dictates will lead to some terrible consequences, but the girl is too poor to consider the danger. What follows is an increasingly tense sequence of the orphan feeding what we assume to be the woman’s blurry faced offspring.

While this is certainly not a novel concept, the execution of the premise is done in such an atmospheric and succint manner that it remains entertaining.  Part of the enjoyment comes from the way the thing lying on the bed is teased out over a number of evenings to create a sense of anticipation.  The final payoff of this slow reveal exceeded my expectations as it put the creature’s cunning on full display without ever veering away from the sense of atmosphere or the shadows that preceded the event.

The lighting makes all the difference in this production as we are meant to be just as in the dark as the orphan as to what exactly she is feeding.  While the illumination is definitely brighter than if they used only candles and the light of the moon, it is never radiant enough to take us out of the moment.  In fact, at times the extra luminosity was used very effectively to create some creepy visual imagery of the thing in the bed that would not have been possible with all natural light.

All in all, this is one of the best shorts I have seen as it creates tension with little in the way of dialogue or frills.  The simplistic nature of the proceedings keeps the focus firmly upon the escalating sense of dread that starts with the telling of the rules and stays through to the final shot.  Given the period setting and the rules based system this comes out feeling a bit like the conceit of GREMLINSmixed with the darker Victorian themes of THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.

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