Over the past few years’ collaborative filmmakers Mark G. McFarlane and Jimmi Johnson have created a number of short genre films together, joining up their individual production companies; October Fifteen (McFarlane) and Bezerx Productions (Johnson).
Covering a wide spectrum of genres from horror to thriller to Sci-Fi to Fantasy; McFarlane and Johnson’s films are eclectic. While it’s clear they share a passion for genre, the duo certainly put their own unique stamp on their creations and it’s evident that they pride themselves on delivering layers of suspense to keep their audience on the edge of their seats!
This review will take a look at four of their most innovative offerings; Mara (2015) which they have entered into DragonCon, an independent short film festival in the US.
Next up is one of their older collaborations from 2011 Redhook and its more polished sequel, The Quiet Season (2013). Finally, I take a look at their second most recent short, A Letter from Perdition (2015), the longest entry included in this review with a run time of 27 minutes. McFarlane acts as director and writer on each of these films while Johnson who edited Clive Barker’s Night Breed: The Cabal Cut (2012) serves as co-writer, editor and producer.
Mara is a short but effective chiller that plays on genuine human fear. Heather Haddow takes the title role as a young woman who’s daily life is affected due to the sleep paralysis she suffers from in the dark of the night. Despite a four-minute time frame Haddow’s performance is exceptionally powerful as the audience is drawn into her nightmarish and isolated world. The scares are subtle but chilling as an unknown entity manifests itself into Mara’s bedroom night after night. What makes Mara so disturbing is the idea of the unknown and the parallels between reality and nightmares. There’s nothing more terrifying than the inability to physically move or even scream and this is why the concept works so well as a short film conveying a brief yet startling moment of terror. From the opening moments as the camera zooms in on Mara, an unnerving atmosphere is in place with high levels of tension as she later turns off the light to go to sleep. Mara wholeheartedly deserves to be seen on the big screen in order to utilize the atmosphere. While Mara might not cause you to jump out of the seat it will most definitely have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up! McFarlane and Johnson certainly had the intention to give us sweet dreams with this one!
Red hook (2011)
Redhook is the title character in this intriguing psychological thriller, that incorporates a Lovecraftian essence. A group of people involved in a secret government operation begin to vanish, the remaining survivor Michael Armstrong (N. Andrew Elliot) is determined to get to the bottom of the disappearances and seeks out the mysterious Professor Redhook (Alex Morrison) for answers. Redhook contains a number of references to Lovecraft especially the thirst for science and human experimentation which is conveyed in the slickly edited yet disturbing brain surgery sequence. What makes the short so fascinating is the ambiguous character of Redhook, there’s a huge sense of uncertainty surrounding him as to whether he can be trusted in revealing the truth to Michael. While Redhook is not as polished as their later offerings, it’s still incredibly well made using the resources that were available to them. The dialogue shared between Redhook and Armstrong proves compelling. It’s low budget, independent genre at its best. Redhook supplies an unnerving twist towards its conclusion that seeps under the skin. Once the credits roll it appears that there’s far more of a story that could be told. Redhook proves its story has unlimited possibilities and thankfully, this wasn’t the last we’ve seen of the secretive professor.
Watch Redhook below:
The Quiet Season (2013)
Reprising his role as the strange Professor Redhook, Alex Morrison stars in the mysterious sequel, The Quiet Season. This second instalment swerves in a different direction as it delves into the backstory of the professor where he finds out that the ghosts of his past may not be quite laid to rest. The Quiet Season is a supernatural chiller of the unexpected kind. Professor Redhook returns to his home town for some peace and quiet, when an unsettling entity manifests itself in a guest house, causing terror for its inhabitants. This time around, Redhook interacts with the suspicious Joanne Lansdale (Juliet Johnson); a medical student helping out at her mother’s hotel during the holiday season. Determined to discover the truth about her enigmatic guest, Joanne sets about researching who this man really is allowing the film to pay homage to its inspiration H.P Lovecraft. Alex Morrison and Juliet Johnson share strong and believable chemistry much like Morrison and Elliot in the previous instalment, which ultimately is the film’s strongest element.
According to the film’s imdb page, The Quiet Season’s estimated budget was roughly £100.00; it’s commendable what they have achieved with a small amount of money as the visual effects of the supernatural entity terrorizing Joanne look authentic and are well-crafted; hitting home that it’s what you don’t see that is far scarier. As well as references to Lovecraft, look out for nods to Friday the 13th and Jurassic Park. The soundtrack is a love letter to John Carpenter providing a nostalgic aspect. The Quiet Season expands on the world created in Redhook unleashing a thought-provoking thriller that combines horror, science-fiction and fantasy. What’s compelling about this story is it keeps up the intrigue, leaving the audience uncertain of where it will head next. A haunting tale set in a picturesque location utilized by its stunning cinematography, The Quiet Season may have a limited budget however that aspect soon fades into the background due to its strong storytelling.
Watch The Quiet Season below:
A Letter from Perdition (2015)
A Letter from Perdition is McFarlane’s most personal film. Shot in his hometown of New Cumnock in Scotland, the short is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the courier (played by Alex Morrison) is determined to deliver his letter to the last remaining survivors. On his way through the barren landscape, he meets a stranger (Martin Haddow) who at first helps him. Is this a chance meeting or does the stranger harbour an ulterior motive? The core strength of this film is its cinematography, it beautifully captures the isolation of the location and is stunning to look at. However, it’s the pacing that makes it problematic as the film is quite uneventful on the whole with more focus on the visuals rather than the storytelling. There are decent performances from both Morrison and Haddow, Morrison demonstrating his versatility as an actor in playing a character so far apart from Redhook while Haddow brings in a sense of tension. The courier is played empathetically as a fragile soul who tries to make sense of the new world around him, Morrison plays this with vulnerability. The overall tone of the film is melancholic complimented by a sombre score courtesy of composer Frank Hale. A Letter from Perdition is more of a slow paced drama than an outright sci-fi or fantasy. With so much media covering the aftermath of the apocalypse and the struggle of civilisation it’s a subject matter more difficult to execute well these days. That said, A Letter from Perdition contains potential, it’s captivatingly shot and has some good performances, it just didn’t quite hold my attention and was the least favourite of the offerings from the filmmakers.
Watch A Letter from Perdition below: