In a perfect world, we'd all be hunkered down in our movie theater seats this week enjoying the sights and sounds of the Academy Award-qualifying Indy Shorts International Film Festival enjoying the best of the fest.
Unfortunately, the world isn't perfect and a global pandemic has claimed thousands of lives and turned the cinematic scene into some late night B-movie horror show.
It sure scares the crap out of me.
Fortunately, the folks at Heartland Film aren't ones to give up easily and Indy Shorts continues its Academy Award qualifying ways with a virtual fest and drive-in bash that proves the human spirit is alive and well and the show truly does go on. Last year, Heartland Film dipped their cinematic toe into the indie horror scene alongside my friends over at Indy-based film site Midwest Film Journal.
It could have gone horribly wrong. It didn't.
Instead, heart meets horror kind of guy Evan Dossey, the Midwest Film Journal co-founder with his spouse Aly Caviness, managed to assemble horror films that were, per the Heartland mission, still "truly moving pictures." With that cinematic toe fully baptized, Heartland's Indy Shorts is bringing forth the horror show goodies with drive-in screenings of some of the best indie horror shorts to be found in this cultural climate of paranoia meets fear meets "wear your damn mask" and "Is that a tickle I feel in my throat?"
Who Goes There? is having its world premiere at Indy Shorts as part of the Heartland Horror block of films and it's another perfectly selected, creepy as hell suspense/horror short with a supernatural bed of paranoia making it perfect for both late night, darkened room virtual screening or even later night, darkened sky drive-in creep outs.
Set in 1880 Minnesota, this UK-shot student short by Astrid Thorvaldsen starts out rather calm but literally creeps up on you with its story about three Norwegian sisters living alone on the Minnesota plains. Ada (Rikke Haughem) is the youngest of the three, an obviously afflicted soul lying in her bed near death being watched over by her dutiful elder sister Ingrid (Nina Yndis) while her other sister, Liv (Siri Meland), does everything she can to keep a safe distance. When a mysterious stranger (Liam McMahon) shows up out of nowhere, the already guarded sisters become more guarded as professes himself to be a doctor of sorts while offering his healing ways to cure Ada.
Thorvaldsen allows the tension to fester its way into the film's cinematic skin, embodying the film with a spiritual paranoia amidst the little cabin's cross-filled walls and prayerful sense of dread. We sense there's something amiss, but what is it?
Or, perhaps better stated, who goes there?
Nina Yndis is mesmerizing as Ingrid, simultaneously filled with steely strength and an acute awareness that there may be some larger force at work around her. Siri Meland embodies all the guarded paranoia of Liv and leaves us constantly wondering what's underneath her placid facade, while Rikke Haughem convinces us to believe in the unbelievable. Liam McMahon's mysterious outcast exists somewhere between snake oil salesman and storefront preacher, though truth be told I'm not sure there's much difference.
The entire ensemble is terrific.
Lensing by Graham Boonzaaier plays with the paranoia in the shadows, while Adam Speck's original music amps up the film's creepiness factor while never pulling us out of the film's 19th century setting. The script by William Gillies comes vividly to life, though it's refreshingly patient in building up the suspense and in making sure we connect with each of the key players here.
The world is awfully scary right now. There are infections right outside the door. We don't know who has them. We don't know who doesn't. We don't know who we can trust. We don't know who we can't.
Some wear masks. Some don't.
Come to think of it, that's a great way to sum up Who Goes There?
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic