Dan Weatherer is a horror writer whose work I haven't yet had a chance to peruse, but is a name I'm familiar with due to the fact that he's had a number of stories published in various places, and also had a collection of short stories, The Soul That Screamed, released through Horrified Press in 2014 and another collection, Only The Good Burn Bright, released through Father Darkness Press in 2015. He also the writer and producer of the short film The Legend Of The Chained Oak, which is based on his first published story. Dan had asked if one of the Ginger Nuts crew would take a look at his film and I was suitably intrigued enough to do so.
The premise is a pretty familiar one - a group of documentary makers travel to a small northern town in the UK to investigate and research a local legend, that of the titular Chained Oak. The tales include rumours of witchcraft and human sacrifice, amongst other things. Of course, whilst there and later camped out in one of the local crew member's houses, all manner of strange events begin to occur...
First things first; the film is a short, only 28 mins or so and is presented as a 'real' documentary-type of film, with the players using their own names (as far as I can tell). The story is pretty simple - they turn up, visit the site of the oak, then go back to someone's house to stay overnight. A number of static cameras in the house give plenty of opportunities for creepy noises, half-seen shadows and things moving on their own. And it's all very well presented. The acting is fine, for the most part - natural and authentic enough, with only a few instances of fluffed lines and awkward pauses (which can be put down to it probably being filmed in a very short space of time). The camera work is assured and the direction solid. And the scares, the main element of something like this are generally handle well, with minimal reliance on cheap 'jump' scares. There's good use of anticipation and build-up and it would be interesting to see how the film-makers handle a longer production.
However, I did have a few niggles with the film, mostly to do with some of the story choices. First off, it's less than half an hour long, yet it feels like they are trying to pack far too much into what little space they have. There are numerous scenes of various people saying at various times that they are 'out of here', but with no real space for character development or back-story, it doesn't really feel impactful on the narrative. I was also a little put off by the fact that the only two female characters (not counting the brief female reporter who inexplicably hounds the crew when they first turn up at a pub, then is never seen again - another extraneous scene which adds nothing to the story) spend most of the film screaming and crying because they are afraid. Whilst I'm sure that any perceived encounter with a seeming malevolent paranormal event would put the shitters up anyone, the fact that it's only the women who behave in the most over the top, hysterical manner feels a little cheap and inauthentic. And then they are the only two to go wandering through the house in the dead of night because they hear noises. It's a wee bit contradictory. One other thing that was a touch confusing was the use of traditional camera work as well as the hand-held, 'found footage' documentary stuff. I didn't actually realise that this was happening until the end of the film and it was a bit confusing trying to work it out. I think if you're going to transition these two styles, it needs to be clear when that transition occurs.
But other than that, it's still an interesting, well-made short film. I think if it was more stream-lined, focusing more on the potential for creepy visuals and situations, it would be an exemplary addition to UK horror. In fact, in places, it reminded me a little bit of the excellent The Borderlands. There's a lot of potential here for a very effective, atmospheric horror film and I'll definitely be interested to see what they all come up with next. It certainly makes me want to check out Dan's fiction.
To watch for free on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/111843455
Dan's official website: http://www.fatherdarkness.co.uk/home.html