After their grandma passes away, Hailey and Kevin visit their grandpa, where they discover that the caretaker has vanished, and Grandpa now shares a drink each night with his deceased wife and another unseen entity in Ben Richardson’s psychological horror film A Little Dead.
A Little Dead is a good example of the type of psychological horror film that tells you things but doesn’t actually show you them. With horror films, it’s always more uncomfortable to await something than to actually experience it; the anticipation is the scary part, and the ‘jump scare’ is the release. A Little Dead has many chances to provide you with routine shock and horror and even provides a plausible opportunity to descend into uncomfortable violence like thousands of others in the slasher films sub-genre, but it refuses to go down the obvious routes and doesn’t release anything at all. Once or twice, we shift in our seats, but for the majority of this 13-minute short film, it’s all waiting, anticipating, and dreading.
Eden Mcguire and Ben Richardson play Hailey and Kevin, a brother and sister who, after the death of their grandmother, visit their grandpa to check up on him. Hailey arrives first and is immediately struck by her grandpa’s strange behaviour. On entering the house, she sees that it is filthy and hasn’t been cleaned for a long time, even though grandpa has a cleaner to help with the household’s day-to-day jobs. She’s also unnerved by her grandpa’s habit of placing three glasses of wine around a table set for one. There are a couple of nice little scenes like this that all add to the unease of the situation. When Kevin arrives, he also begins to suspect something is wrong, and there is genuine chemistry between the two leads. Jack C Hays as grandpa is also strong, we are never sure if what he is alluding to is real or simply all in his mind.
A Little Dead would make for an interesting feature as it seems to be deliberately aimed at viewers with developed attention spans. It moves slowly to create an atmosphere and a sense of time and place. Although we don’t spend much time with them, we gain sympathy for both the brother and sister, as well as their grandfather who really does need help. The short film doesn’t rush into cheap thrills, but because it’s only 13 minutes long, the tension is bearable. It would need a few more shocks and jolts throughout its run time though in order to keep an audience’s interest and excitement for a feature, but it would work.
The cinematography by Andrew P.C. Smith manages to re-create the same feelings we get when we are in a familiar building at an unfamiliar time, yet it cleverly mimics all the clichéd cabins out in the woods that have seen the end of many groups of young people over the years. The colours remain a dark and sinister tone of browns, blacks, and some reds alongside the ominous score by Brandon Blanchard, creating a menacing undercurrent.
On this showing, Ben Richardson is a fine director with a great deal of promise. He can write a decent screenplay as well. The only criticism I could make is that we never receive a genuine or stand-out shock that would let us see what this short, and Richardson himself, is fully capable of. He gives us a decent ending with good special effects, but after the atmospheric beginning and middle, it feels like a bit of an anti-climax. However, we remain intrigued, nervous, and yes slightly fearful throughout this very well-made short film.