The 1970s were a particularly brutal time when it came to serial killers. Many of whom American society is still obsessed with today. From Ted Bundy to John Wayne Gacy and New York’s David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), their crimes led to widespread fear and panic. It’s with this background in mind that I dove into Nancy Menagh’s VICTIM NO 6. Presented as a part of Fantasia‘s “Born of Women” showcase, it flips the narrative of who one should worry about taking home at night. And it does so successfully.
The short takes place in New York City circa 1975. Another woman has been murdered. It makes front-page news, capturing the attention of Donna (Heather Brittain O’Scanlon) and the citizens of NYC. The headline reads: “The City Slasher Trashes Another Victim. Who Will Be Next?” This sets the stage for the viewer, especially as the camera focuses on Donna in particular. Donna is joined by her coworker, Judy (Rachel Farrar), who is hesitant about going out with the City Slasher on the loose. After some convincing, though, Judy agrees to go with Donna to a local bar. Alas, it’s not long before the two get separated after Judy runs into someone she knows. Left to her own devices, Donna is then approached by a handsome stranger (Russ Russo). Is he all that’s cracked up to be? Or will there be another victim before the night is over?
From a storytelling perspective, Menagh sets a distinctive tone early on. There’s an undercurrent of tension from the get-go that steadily builds as the short plays out. But it’s not all tense. She knows exactly when to provide relief for the viewer. There’s a false sense of security crafted until VICTIM NO 6 is revealed. From there the tension returns and it is marvelous. A real lesson on luring the viewer in and keeping their attention.
Heather Brittain O’Scanlon has an energy that commands the viewer to focus. As Donna, there is a powerful undercurrent. Each action made is deliberate and precise. Her character, designed almost to be a final girl, will surprise. Russ Russo’s Mark is charming. But, when the opportunity presents itself, the shady underside pops out in glimpses. The guessing game of is he or isn’t he radiates strongly due in part to his performance. But also, in how Menagh has crafted the characters on the page.
DP Aram “Spike” Bauman does great work in this short. Warm burnt tones contrast against dark shadows (as highlighted in the still above), which hint at the danger present. The two lighting/tonal elements also craft a general seedy quality to the bar as well. Amanda Crout Carmona delivers a variety of ’70s fashion that pairs well with Amina Alexander’s well-crafted hairstyles featured in the film. Because of the warmer tone of the lighting used particularly in the bar scene, the colors used for the wardrobe pop out significantly less than what we’ve come to associate with the ’70s color wardrobe palette.
Viewers will be curious to see how things play out in VICTIM NO. 6 from beginning to end. The camera’s focus on Donna never wavers. A smart decision that has a major payoff in the final act. The screenplay itself is intelligent, with layers and depth that fascinate and keep viewers on their toes. I do urge viewers to rewatch the short once done because how the story is framed and what choices are made take on an entirely different meaning during a second watch-through. Highly recommend! And also, be careful who you leave with.
VICTIM NO. 6 was featured in the “Born of Women” short film showcase at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.