The other day I was scrolling through my personal Twitter feed and one of those “someone you follow liked” denoted tweets popped up. The tweet was a link to YouTube for a short horror called, FEAR WISH.
It’s been a while since I’ve sat down with a horror movie to do a review, or even watch a short for that matter—there’s a lot of reasons I had to step away from the horror world for a while, but when I saw this short, it took it as a sign I was ready to get back into this.
The video comes to us from Midnight Video, a channel on YouTube with a small but growing number of horror shorts. Here is their channel description with a little history on the creators, Zak White and Todd Spence that does a better job summing up what Midnight Video is about than I can:
Born in the midwest, Zak White and Todd Spence started out writing comedy sketches for Cracked and Screenjunkies but then decided to go back to their first love; horror movies. The horror section at their local video stores and TV shows like Tales from the Crypt and Are You Afraid Of The Dark? was a treasure trove of imaginative concepts, nightmarish tension and fun monster/creature designs, keys that stayed with Todd & Zak until they finally decided to create horror short films to, continue those traditions, and keep that type of filmmaking alive through their own work.– Midnight Video’s about page on YouTube
Without giving any spoilers yet, the video starts out with a dark fireplace. A flashlight clicks on and briefly illuminates an empty, ashy fireplace, and then clicks off. I’m already freaked. OUT.
I have a fireplace like this. Although it’s no longer in use, the same kind of iron tools in this scene are there in almost the same spot, like a ghost of the fires long passed. It also has those same metal curtains and I’ve heard enough creepy noises coming out of my own fireplace, mostly from raccoons trying to pry open the grate around the chimney after galloping across the roof, which happens to sound like a full-grown human walking across it. But I digress.
I’m already on edge just in these first fifteen seconds of the film. The flashlight clicks on and off again. Nothing. But, I am already sweating because I know something will happen if he does it again.
That feeling, is what Sigmund Freud called, “the uncanny” which is an experience where something familiar is made strange and most of the time, unsettling. One of the most-used examples of this in horror is scenes where a loved one is turned zombie, seemingly harmless but creepy dolls and so on. You expect a familiar thing to be normal, but the context of which it’s in is anything but. The repetition of the flashlight on the empty and dark fireplace is used as a tool to connect your cumulative memory of the familiar and create the effect of the uncanny.
Further on here, there are spoilers, so if you haven’t done so already, please give the video a watch.
The third time, a huge stack of money appears, which is almost like a reward for being unsettled so much, but we know this cannot be the case. As we move on, we’re introduced to our main character, Rich, who is troubled and nervous. He paces, has put the pile of money that suddenly appeared on the table, and he’s on the phone with a guy named Mike. They’re in a discussion, and as these pieces come together, we realize we’ve stumbled upon some sort of wish ritual that comes with a price.
For me, this invokes a bit of the Wishmaster series. One of the campy horror gifts of the late 90s and early 2000s. The first produced by the late horror master, Wes Craven, also had three sequels, although they didn’t have as much impact as the first. Everything to this point in the film sets us up for somehow, this is going to go wrong. Our anticipation continues to build as we get into the, “be careful what you wish for” territory.
We now know that a woman named Julie (I am assuming this is Rich’s wife) enters the picture and we learn that she’s the center of this wish. We see that this guy is willing to risk anything to save the woman he loves from some sort of serious illness, so he goes through with the latter part of the ritual in hopes that the money that appeared for the treatment will remain a part of the equation. Mike assures him that it worked for him…albeit barely. (Thanks, Mike. Not actually assuring us right now.)
Then the creep-factor jumps from a six to a ten with three clicks of a flashlight.
When the metal curtains opened, I shouted. I wouldn’t call this a jump-scare moment, but it was certainly unnerving in a way that also brought me back into the uncanny. Something strange and unseen happening to something familiar.
Then Rich starts getting just about as freaked out us viewers already are. He thinks things have gone wrong. He admits his fear wish, that it’s all failed and she’s dead. Eventually we return to the fireplace. Silence and that slow zoom into it leaves us in a peak of anticipation, unsure if this build up will pay off. We may even feel a false sense of security in this moment.
It all pays off with a good jump scare.
Now, I am not a big fan of jump scares. Although this is just my opinion, it feels like nine times out of ten, they’re over-used and not put in without any sort of finesse. They’re a cheap—although for many, very effective—tool that sometimes makes a lot of horror movies feel like they have to reach some sort of “scare quota.” But, this was different.
All the visual distractions, pregnant pauses, and placement in the uncanny builds this tension and anticipation for a scare. Just when we think it might not happen, it does in an awesome, almost feargasmic release that made me squeal. It felt great. A release of tension and stress that put a smile on my face and a pep in my step. This is the horror-high that I am seeking when I go to the genre for stress relief.
To sum things up with my long-winded look into something with a duration of only three minutes or so, I leave you with this:
FEAR WISH, starring Nathan Sutton as Rich, Amy McRoberts as Julie, and Scott Whyte as Mike, uses the tenets of classic and modern horror film-making to pack only three minutes full of the same effect you can get with a feature-length film. It tells a story with depth in just that short amount of time while building up your anticipation of what might happen next. Then it delivers a feargasmic release that leaves you with a horror-high and you’ll not only want to watch it again, you will want to watch other people watch it and share in the experience.
I can confirm that a second (and more) watch, at least for me, still filled me with excitement. I can guarantee that the next time I have a friend over, I’m going to ask them:
Do you want to see something scary?