Sunday, 2 August 2020

Short-Film Review - The Tell Tale Heart

This is the cause here... It is the beating of his hideous heart.
The Tell Tale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe's 1843 mini-tale of obsession, murder and mind-shredding guilt, is as Gothic as classic literature gets - a lurid tale with an unreliable narrator who pleads his innocence even while bathed (metaphorically and otherwise) in the blood of his victim. With its blending of crime and horror it's also a precursor to the pulpy noir stories that first proved popular half a century later. Director McClain Lindquist gets all of this in his deliciously deranged new short, one that retells Poe's story with a bold and bloody relish that would surely make the 19th century horror master smile.
Sonny Grimsley plays The Narrator, a modern take on Poe's murderous protagonist, but one psychologically rooted in a bygone pre-forensics era. Like the literary character he's carer to an elderly man who he claims to love and knows to be good, meanwhile being driven mad by a fixation with the ailing gentleman's vulture-like eye. When two detectives investigate reports of 'screaming bloody murder', they are welcomed by a man whose mannered grace belies gnawing guilt, along with a mortal terror that no deed - however wicked - can lay to rest.
Lindquist's best decision here is to embrace pure madness with every neatly structured frame and every precisely integrated sound of his devious little movie. The mansion in which the blood-letting occurs is Gothic to its foundations (the Knives Out family home sprang to mind), with richly detailed interiors and a glossy cinematic sheen that shows to best effect the classiness and the gore. But it's what he and his team do within their precision-designed setting that provide this short with its uncanny edge.
It's all about the psychology here - whether the antique clock-tick that has arguably driven our narrator deranged to begin with, or the visceral images that haunt him in the aftermath of his grim act. This simple story has been crafted into a dark and probing study of insanity, shot through with moments of pure horror. Lindquist knows every cross-cutting, shadow-casting trick in the genre playbook and uses them to juicy effect, tossing in a few unique visual flourishes of his own. He also understands when to let the camera linger at visually unsettling moments, and has the practical effects at hand to back it up. It's all steeped in a disorienting soundscape too, one that compliments Grimsley's enjoyably ripe and glowering central performance.
The Tell Tale Heart (2020) takes all that makes classic Gothic horror so enjoyable - its melodrama, it rich symbolism, its deep-dive into the murkier realms of the human psyche - and cranks them up full-volume. It's also got a deviant sense of fun in keeping with its narrator's sheer delusion. Twenty minutes inside this guy's head makes for a deliciously shuddering nightmare. It also bodes well for these filmmakers' futures - in horror or wherever else they choose to ply their cunning craft. They know their movie grammar well, and use it to deliver a story as pulsing with menace as the words Poe once inked onto his page.

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