A mother is faced with the decision to take action against her son who is showing the growing tendencies towards sociopathic behavior. As the mother confronts her son’s teacher, a diary, and deep within herself, a decision will be made that on the surface is a truly terrifying action, but as we look deeper, it may be a choice of evil for the greater good. Based off the short story by Emma Wise, GENE is a short film that challenges all viewers to ask the questions of what if? What if you were that parent of a child who was capable of great evil? What if you could stop something terrible from developing? Is evil nature or nurture? These questions, along with a pulsing score and captivating performances, make for palpable tension in a very deep and dark trip down the rabbit hole.
Playing both the lead character, Lauren, as well as the cultivator of this story, GENE is a short film based in the UK that goes back to the basics of captivating storytelling and performance. Offering just about no practical FX except in the opening sequence, writers and directors Nicolas and Marc Padley, lay out a very basic path dealing with the situation of murdering your offspring for the greater good. Yes, that is what I said. GENE opens with a Giallo style sequence as we witness a cold piece of metal poking into the belly of a disemboweled rabbit in some non-descript woods. As the gloved killer examines its kill with quick pokes, a young boy walks to a wall scribbling with chalk on it. From there we pan to one of the most terrifying glances of a young boy named Gene, played by Jack Maw, who with his slick hair and chilling eyes tells you everything you need to know going into the situation ahead. His look is empty and from the first moment you watch the void behind those eyes, you know something is wrong.
We cut to Gene’s mother Lauren sitting across from the principal. They are discussing the knife brought in by Gene to school. Both are dealing with the truth that Gene has not only brought a weapon to school but there are suspicions that his intent may be causing warning signs. The principal is very direct but empathetic to Lauren’s situation of losing her husband and Gene’s step-father last year. Lauren promises to handle it herself and from the moment she leaves the office, she seems to show a different side then most parents would in this situation. As we watch the dialogue and performance between the women, we see the conflict and questions fully form. Is Gene becoming a monster? For me, the human monster, as I continue to say, is the scariest type within the horror genre because, especially for children, not only can they be creepy but they can be manipulative. Partner that with the modern day fear of violence with children, especially in schools, and the idea of a parent hurting a child makes for a very dark and touchy film.
With this question being faced, Lauren leaves the school and we see even more of a shift in manner including facial expressions and reasoning about her son. As she contemplates the notion of possibly hurting her child to stop something far more evil and too far gone, she pulls over on the side of the road to examine the knife given back to her by the principal and that was shown in the opening scene. Pulling back onto the road, the mystery behind Lauren starts to mount as you notice things just don’t seem right with her. Arriving at their non-descript home, she enters Gene’s room searching for clues and she discovers a diary hidden in a draw. Each page offers images that confirm even more the darkness that wears her son’s skin. Confronting him after a meal of very raw steak, Lauren’s demeanor continues to become darker, colder and more focused as the wheel are turning in her mind. The final two minutes of GENE are very jagged, intense and truly horrific in the most uneasy and creepy way. It reinforces the idea that you truly don’t know the people around you.
Both Padley’s effectively use every tool in the filmmaking tool box to tap into the core of what scares people. Using very basic and non-descript set pieces, they do not distract from any of the elements such as the narrative, insane conflict and talented cast. The cinematography captures moments with distinct angles and planned framing that builds a scenes tone and mood with very little dialogue. GENE offers a very constant and intense score that never lets you think there is anything else but growing dread. No matter a parent or not, GENE taps into your base needs to care and love for those who you think are vulnerable but are far more intelligent and cunning than you. The theme of this short is dangerous and again, between the performances and the mounting tension, it will shake you. Throw in a few twists that get under your skin and you see short horror storytelling on display with the question being asked, can you do what needs to be done? Is it real? Why is Gene like that? It is just a few of the questions that are created with what you see on screen and what your mind fills in for you.