How far would you go to get something back?
Fans of last year’s FrightFest coverage may remember a short film we raved about called The Tour, starring Jessica Cameron and Heather Dorff, set in an old haunted English house. Writer and director Damon Rickard’s The Package, the follow-up to his chilling thriller, will be hitting the international festival circuit soon. It will be making appearances at the likes of Scream in the Dark, Weekend of Horrors, Puerto Rico Horror Festival and the Cornwall Horror Festival (a little closer to home) – and we’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak peak at his latest twisted tale.
Actor Tom Gordon – a co-star of Cameron and Dorff’s in The Tour – returns for Rickard’s newest production, where he mercilessly intimidates, threatens, beats and tortures a mysterious stranger (Dan Palmer, Stalled). Who is he? What does Gordon want from Palmer? Why is he tied to a chair, seemingly unaware of why this is happening to him?
Or… is he unaware?
You see, The Package begs its audience to carefully consider the situation. As clues are gathered throughout the duration of the relatively short 15 minute run time, squeezed out of the dialogue an inch at a time, it’s clear that the intention is not to paint you a pretty picture of good vs evil. “Who is the villain of the piece” is not at all a straightforward question and you soon learn that as quickly as one fact may be established, the next may provide some further context that completely flips it on its head, keeping you guessing right the way through to its eventual and satisfying conclusion.
The most difficult element to get right in a short such as this is the pacing. Give away too much too quickly and you’ll kill any suspense before it’s even begun, but if things move too slowly, then there’ll be no momentum – or worse, the ending will be rushed.
I’m pleased to report that The Package suffers very little from these problems and is a keenly scripted, well edited suspense thriller. Credit is due not only to its screenplay, but the whole production values belie the micro-budget the crew had to work with. Visually, the setting is well chosen and atmospheric, with some rather nice individual shots of its two high performing stars. The score, produced by Eric Elick (who also worked on The Tour), also suits the tone perfectly.
However, getting back to the budget for a moment, this film only exists because there were fans out there willing to back Rickard’s project via its Indiegogo page before production had begun. They managed to raise £4,383 in funding, which in the grand scheme of the multi-million dollar films released at your local cinema every week, it may not seem like a huge amount. In actuality, it’s a mightily impressive figure for a short like this to achieve. Especially when they were only asking for £3,500 initially, which they surpassed by some distance. Take a look at the last entry to my June In Review article to see how easy it is to mess up a film on a budget of a similar size. To get a final product in The Package that was this good from that much money is highly commendable.
And it is a good, intriguing, exciting short movie. But it’s not perfect. Once or twice you do wish that they would just get on with it. You have an inkling as to what the eventual outcome might be, and as much fun as it is getting there to find out, occasionally the dialogue’s restrictiveness does not work in its favour. The concept of drip-feeding you revelations about the menacingly dark plot is great, firmly planting one foot in the horror camp and the other in suspense-thriller territory, but in reality it struggles at times to feel real because of this. Either the characters know what’s motivating them and therefore don’t need to speak it out loud for the audiences benefit, or they’re trying to ascertain facts and would be as quick as possible to establish them. I wouldn’t say it’s jarring, but it is quite possibly a result of simply being a short movie. With longer time to play with, things could be allowed the room to breathe and grow organically. Let them settle on the air in the room first.
But this is just a minor gripe. It certainly doesn’t detract heavily from what is overall an enjoyable – and teeth grindingly tense – way to spend 15 minutes.
The Package will get its world première at the Scream in the Dark Festival in Omaha, Nebraska, on Sunday 18 October in a block of short films starting from 1pm. UK residents won’t have to wait too much longer to see it, as it’ll be screened at Film4 FrightFest’s Halloween All-dayer on 24th October 2015 at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square.