Creating atmosphere in film requires that the narrative has room to breathe, to allow that atmosphere to fill in the gaps. It’s built on a balance of information and lack of information, narrative momentum and moments of pause. A balance that many movies don’t get right; either overwhelming the viewer with plot elements making the attempts at atmosphere fade unnoticed into the background (or worse detract from the film by distracting viewers) or the atmosphere itself becoming too central a focus so the audience loses interest.
The fact that What Happened to the Others?, the new short from co-writer/director Douglas Wicker, manages to create an intriguingly unsettling atmosphere in the first minute of its seven minute runtime speaks to Wicker’s talent as a filmmaker. The short opens with two boys playing baseball near some woods, and things begin to feel off when, after hitting the ball into the woods it rolls back to them, twice. When one of them goes to investigate, the other remains on the edge of the woods and soon sees the ball rolling back toward him, this time covered in blood.
But that’s merely the prologue, as the short then centers on the child who lived, decades later, as an old man (Frank Miller) living with his son (Adam Qualls) and grandson (Lucas Bradbrook). The story proper begins when the adult son’s car breaks down near the woods from the opening. The grandfather begs his son to stay in the car, but the son says that he can walk home as it’s a short walk through the woods and that his father needs to calm down and give up on his paranoia about the woods.
Of course, because this is a horror short, that’s not the case. But while What Happened to the Others? includes a wonderfully realized folk horror creature, and some jarring violence, almost all the horror comes from its atmosphere. Shots of the woods, an alternately ambient and pulse pounding score, and lighting that adds a sense of the otherworldly to the entire short.
It’s a wonderfully spooky short, and the fact that each character remains nameless adds a mythological or fairy tale feel that ensures What Happened to the Others? will get under any viewer’s skin, or at the very least linger in their mind.
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