***This review contains spoilers*** Origin is a short film, written and directed by Danny Stack, which won Best Horror at the London Independent Film Festival in 2012.
Lee Ross and Katy Carmichael play the parents of a young man, Freddy (Jack Blumenau), whose life is upturned when their son is bitten by a mysterious creature in the local woodland. Such a logline will leave many with the impression that this will be a supernatural horror film, and the mise-en-scène would seem to support this impression. The atmospheric, eerily shot woodland, punctuated with a scream that open this short, bolt you solidly into the world. "Were you in the woods again?" Claire asks her son as he stumbles into the kitchen. "He's been bitten," his father observes. Through these tense, nervous observations, Stack opens his film.
What follows, however, is not a movie that foregrounds the supernatural. As their son's illness, contracted through the bite, worsens and his skin becomes mottled and scaly, the couple find their relationship disintegrating further than it already has. The two leads, both well-established TV actors in the UK, portray the fractured relationship between Claire and Jimmy with gritty realism. You might not like either of them, or how they act, but they are human and well-realised on screen. Their isolation from one another also heightens the disconnect they feel as Freddy's condition worsens, but it is also the force majeure that will bring them back together.
Danny Stack's film also highlights another interesting disconnect: between the participants in the drama and the viewer. With its ominous score, and creepy woodland shots, and other similar horror iconography (Freddy in the shadows, hood up, watching as his mother smokes post-coitally), the audience is primed for horror. The characters world is, however, distinctly humdrum. The bite Freddy has suffered is from a neighbour's dog. His father is more interested in having his tea than taking his son straight to the hospital (we might know how bad the bite really is, but they do not, which might lead one to think Freddy's parents uncaring). The Doctor, played by Peter Landi, thinks it might be an adverse reaction to the tetanus shot. Everybody, perhaps even Freddy, remain convinced that the origin of this 'disease' is human and react accordingly. It is the viewer that is a step ahead, awaiting the cataclysm that is going to fall, for the monster that Freddy will become to arise.
By foregrounding the human drama in this way, Danny Stack is able to make the horror more vital. Shock jumps, the staple of horror film, work only if you care for the characters. By the end of these disturbing fifteen minutes you have become involved in the lives of this family, you have been moved by the father's speech about his son's birth, have seen that this couple, whatever their problems, do have love for one another. The cumulative effect of this is to make the end all the more brutal.
Danny Stack has admitted that Origin is the basis for a feature film he hopes to make, and it is true that this short has the feel of a pilot, or the first act of something larger, but it does not negate the power or impact that this award-winning short has. As a calling card, this is fine film-making.
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