REVIEW: Silently Within Your Shadow
“Surely even Hopkins, Meredith, Attenborough and Goldman can’t swing this one!”, I thought not so long ago as I settled down to experience 1978’s Magic for the first time. True, I’ve always found ventriloquist dummies rather unnerving, but as a subject matter strong enough to warrant such heavyweights? Nah.
Well, not for the first time, I was totally wrong. Ol’ Fats’ escapades shit me right up and they did so in all seriousness, with tongue merely teasing cheek – something I’d never thought possible. Of course, the whole setup wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without the magnificent actors, writers and director doing what they do best, but the sheer fact they’d been able to elevate a wooden puppet to more than a gimmick heartened me and, as The Boy has recently proved, that’s not an easy task.
Scott Lyus’ new horror short, Silently Within Your Shadow, thankfully takes a leaf from the former’s book and allows events to unfold using clever dialogue and trusted techniques instead of tiresome jump scares and stereotypical haunted house-style tropes, tackling relationship issues almost as much as horror. Similar to the excellent Magic, the pathological human angle remains in the foreground and eternally more unsettling than the possibility of a pissed off timber short-arse.
Ventriloquist Lucette (Sophie Tergeist) lives with her partner Jace (Byron Fernandes) and loves her work – meaning her ‘co-worker’, doll Hugo, is also her lodger and as big a part of her life as her boyfriend. As the puppet’s constant presence leaves Jace frustrated and the couple’s relationship close to tatters, her obsessiveness comes under amplified scrutiny as our flappy-mouthed buddy (voiced by Slaughtered Bird hero Bill Moseley) gets the rough treatment and is banished to the shadows. Hey, have some free advice, everybody: DON’T GET HOSTILE WITH THE CREEPY DOLL, FOR FUCK’S SAKE! Have you learned nothing?!
The fact Lyus has made our puppeteer female adds something genuinely unnerving to the dynamics of manipulator/manipulated – roles which become increasingly blurred the deeper we delve into SWYS’s 15 minute runtime. There’s clearly something sinister afoot, as Lucette vaguely explains on stage, and after the genius inclusion of a macabre, unrelated newspaper story (read aloud by Jace) sets the mood, we realise it’s not what will happen after the relationship-driven character study that is the intelligent surprise but how we get to the frenzied conclusion.
Rather than concentrating on carnage, the filmmaker puts remarkable effort into bringing us horror subtly, slowly building the tension but never losing track of the absurdity of it all, helped immensely by Moseley’s dulcet, wicked tones – my only criticism being the audio/visual sync, but I can’t recall hinged jaws ever mouthing words fluently in all of my 34 years, so I guess that’s being a mite picky! Some may also say Moseley is under-used, but I personally think a waffling Hugo would’ve detracted from the overall tone. Tergeist and Fernandes are convincing enough with what they have to work with, as darkened rooms hiding a modest budget (doubling as packed theatres and intimate moments) may have been too much to carry for many actors with their limited experience.
Lyus’ SWYS is an entertaining 15 minutes in which you may guess what’s going to happen, but be safe in the knowledge you’ll be happy and impressed by how it does happen. Oh, did I mention, DON’T GET FUCKING NASTY WITH THE PUPPET! ARE YOU INSANE?!! Chances are it’s probably not gonna maim you any time soon, but do you really know for sure?