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The Independent Critic

Robert Haulbrook, Jodi Essex, Tommy Allen Taylor
Michael Sharpe
14 Mins.

 "Deviling" Review 
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Have you ever dated someone with whom you had grave concerns once the relationship ended?

Meet Ronald (Robert Haulbrook).

Ronald is every woman's nightmare, the kind of guy who seems like a nice guy at first but whose personality slowly reveals itself long about the time you've revealed a bit too much of yourself. The woman in this case, Sharlene (Jodi Essex), seems like a nice enough woman and she certainly caught the fancy of Ronald, a mortician whose social skills border on the mortifying. By the time Sharlene catches on that something may not be quite right with Ronald, Ronald isn't quite sure he's ready to let go.

A rather horrifying short film from writer/director Michael Sharpe, Deviling is grounded in just enough reality that it becomes even more frightening as every second of its 14-minute running time ticks by.

The film hinges, or perhaps unhinges, on the performance of Robert Haulbrook as Ronald. Haulbrook, whom you may have seen during eight episodes of the television series Tainted Love, gives a performance that might be best described as Anthony Edwards meets Ernest T. Bass meets Niles Crane meets one demented motherf***er.

The simple truth is that Haulbrook's performance here is more satisfying than a good majority of performances you see in feature-length horror flicks. One might be tempted to call the performance over the top, but actually Haulbrook never crosses that fine line that divides insanity and criminal madness and, as a result, one can never completely be sure where Ronald's coming from and exactly where he's going though, if we're being honest, where it all ends up isn't exactly a huge surprise.

There's nothing worse in a short film than when the cast gives it all away simply by the tone of their performances, and to their credit neither Haulbrook nor co-star Jodi Essex reveals too much. Essex plays Sharlene as a smartly wary woman, a woman who shows just enough heart that we get the idea that this relationship was real but now fully informed enough that her every word feels intentional and guarded. There's a sort of verbal dance that goes on early in the film, a verbal dance that sets the tone nicely for what's going to happen before the film's closing credits.

D.P. Joe Stauffer's camera work is solid throughout the film, with he and Sharpe giving the film a sort of muted, bleached out look at times that reminded me quite a bit of the original Halloween in the way it looked. Alex Mauldin's original music accompanies the film quite nicely, helping to set the pace and intensify the mood as events begin to unfold. The only slight issue, and it distracted on a couple of occasions, was in the "fade to black" editing that felt just a step too slow and momentarily jerked me out the film's high intensity suspense.

Deviling is a great example of the kind of quality suspense/thriller short that can be produced on an incredibly low budget when a filmmaker doesn't worry about gimmicks or special effects and instead focuses on a simple yet effective story along with quality performances and solid production quality. For more information on Deviling, visit the film's Facebook page listed in the credits.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic