Written by Shannon McGrew
Short films can be hit or miss and I’ve learned from viewing many of them that it can be a delicate balance in making sure your audience understands the full concept of the film in the short time frame that it’s given. One of the best horror shorts to have come out of 2016 not only executes their concept perfectly, but is also one of the most effective and terrifying shorts that I have ever seen.
Agatha, from director Timothy Vandenberg, is a ten minute short that doesn’t need to rely on over-the-top special effects and frills. The premise centers around a young orphan girl who takes on an odd job in which she’s not allowed to tell anyone where she is or what she is doing for a very wealthy woman. She is tasked with bringing food up to the attic and to never step foot farther than where she is told to place the plate of food.
Early on, we are given a clue, through a photograph, that something is not right with whatever is inhabiting the space in the attic. Without question, the orphan girl goes up there day in, and day out, and places the food on the table. You can see her curiosity brewing behind her doe-like eyes, but she follows the rules to a T. Each day she goes up and each day she is paid, but soon enough things start to take a much sinister turn.
What makes Agatha so great is that it’s able to add mystery and suspense with barely a word spoken. The dialogue is very sparse, only showing up at the beginning, and the viewer is left to put together the pieces through the events that unfold. The tension is palpable and it’s hard not to reach out and help steer the orphan girl from harm’s way.
As for the horror aspect of this short, it’s spot on. There are no “jump scares” or musical cues to prepare you for what is to come, which I find to be quite refreshing. There is no shrieking or screaming when the inevitable occurs, which almost makes the climax of the short that much more terrifying. The silence is deafening because, though it answers the question as to what happens, it doesn’t tell us how it happens.
As the short comes to a close, the director gives us a glimpse into who, or what, Agatha is, and it’s horrifying. It’s the perfect way to end the short because it’s an image that will stay ingrained in your memory long after the short is over. It’s also a reminder that there are many things that lurk hidden within the shadows, away from prying eyes and questions; things that are better left unknown.
Overall, Agatha is one of the best horror short films I’ve ever seen. It’s use of practical effects and shadow play make for a truly chilling tale and the acting from the orphan girl makes everything feel so realistic. If I could, I would beg Director Timothy Vandenberg to make a full feature film, but I have a feeling “Agatha” is best played out as a short. When it comes to effective horror, I can’t recommend this short enough and I can promise you you won’t be disappointed.