Eli Roth has said many times: “If you don’t want to be scared during a horror film, don’t close your eyes— close your ears.”
SOUNDBITE— the four-minute short for the new “Horror House” YouTube channel, from director Michael Coulombe and his co-writer Brantley J. Brown— makes effective use of auditory tension to create an afflicting horror short that will cause actual gasps by its climax.
We are introduced to an unnamed woman (Taylor Murphy-Sinclair) alone in her darkly lit room, getting ready to unwind for the evening. She makes her way onto her desk, about to spend some time on her laptop and her phone, complete with ear buds wedged into her ears and an ominous-looking picture of a smiling skull against an otherwise black homescreen. Probably just about to do some meditating after a long day, right? A very unnerving, screeching soundbite that increases in volume begins to permeate from her ear buds, and the woman begins to appear hypnotized: her head starts to slowly move to the rhythm of its creepy beat on loop, repeatedly— right before being jolted back to reality at the creaking sound of her closet door slightly opening. We notice a peculiar quote written on her whiteboard nearby: “Act as if ‘yes’ is the only living thing”— and the young woman clicks the sound back on, choosing to continuously be hypnotized.
From this point, our nerves are kicked up a notch. Blood begins to pour down the woman’s face, and an array of whispering voices begin telling her to “Do it.” She is increasingly entranced, as we start to fear for what these voices are actually telling her to do. I won’t spoil SOUNDBITE’s sudden climax— as it should be witnessed completely unexpectedly— but let’s just say that I was immediately reminded of a particular classroom scene from this year’s Hereditary that gave me a sympathetic headache after viewing. Ouch.
Just as its title would suggest, SOUNDBITE relies not only on its impressive usage of tension-building through dreadful sound effects, but also through silence as well. Clicks from fingernails texting on an iPhone and the faintest nighttime cricket chirps from outside (against an otherwise silent-filled room) make the sudden sounds of a closet door mysteriously opening or a loud whisper of “Do it”— that seems like it’s coming from right beside her— all the more assaulting and shocking to our senses. After the whispering voices cease and the unnerving soundbite she’s been listening to completely cuts out, we are left with a few seconds of utter silence, causing us to feel anxious about what is about to come next. When the thing-that-I-won’t-spoil does come, we feel it solely though the sounds it creates against the slamming of the laptop keyboard, as the camera pans away, and we are left cringing at its audible familiarity.
Aside from his usage of auditory assaults, Coulombe knows how to create chillingly effective lighting in his background. The room in which the woman is residing in is only lit by a couple of candles and a few rope lights on her wall, therefore we never get to see through the darkness of the mysterious opening closet, nor do we get to see clearly if there really is something lurking behind her when the camera is directly in front of her face. Coulombe knows we don’t have to be able to see everything clearly, because our imaginations will do the rest…
Since the woman in the film is surrounded by technology— including her phone, her laptop, and her ear buds— I couldn’t help but wonder if Coulombe and Brown want to give us a horrifying warning about the dangers of spending too much time looking and listening to our screens, and shutting out the rest of the real world because of it. As soon as the woman completely gives herself over to indulging in technology, the technology causes terrible things to happen, or at least it seems. She did choose to log onto her laptop and iPhone after all, so is the technology to blame, or is she? Was something really in the closet? Is there more of a paranormal force at work here?
Draw your own conclusions by watching SOUNDBITE on the Horror House YouTube channel.