There were many highlights during the Panic Fest Short Film Showcase block this weekend and it is hard to pick out a specific one that stood out from the group because the lineup was so strong.
‘Here There Be Monsters.’ stood out to me when it came to the performance of the lead actress. Before we dive into the performance of Savannah Foran-McDaniel let me setup what the film is about.
Based on the title and the fantastic poster art you might think this is purely a short film about a monster featuring a gnarly creature design. You would be wrong. Sure there is a monster and the practical approach to the creature is fantastic, but at the core is it about bullying and the long lasting effects it can have on the psyche. It takes a look at what builds up inside when bullying takes place, until your inner monster is unleashed. I’m not entirely sure if the director intended on the monster being real or all inside Elki’s head. Either way it has a powerful and disturbing message of what is it like kid growing up and dealing with relentless bullying.
Now back to the performance of Savannah Foran-McDaniel who portrays tormented teen, Elki. Lately we have seen a few films that take away your senses. ‘Quite Place’ took away speech to some extent. ‘Bird Box’ took away sight while hiding from a creature. ‘Here There Be Monsters’ doesn’t take away one of your senses but much like those films it makes the most of the story it wants to convey without a single word being spoken.
The film clocks in at 14 minutes and 30 seconds and is setup superbly by Savannah who makes you feel helpless from the very beginning of the film when she is being bullied by her classmates on the bus ride home. The fear and desperation she evokes through her reactions are both heartbreaking, tense and carry at least 10 minutes of the film. It is a incredible performance on an important subject matter all wrapped up in a horror film.
Director and write Drew Macdonald agrees that Savannah’s performance was special;
“The film is an entirely dialogue free exercise in atmospheric tension which is grounded by an emotional tour de force performance from the fantastic newcomer – Savannah Foran-McDaniel. Elki is a vulnerable, but fierce young girl, who is at breaking point after being ostracized and tormented by her peers…”
“Beyond the emotional and thrilling story, one of the goals with ‘Here There Be Monsters’ was to create a throwback creature feature.
So we’ve approached the film from an entirely practical design standpoint with our Monster having been designed, built, and operated by the team at Steve Boyle FX. This has then been further brought to life by the vocal skills of world famous beat boxer Tom Thum and engineering to horrifying perfection by sound designer, Pete Christie, to hopefully create a unique and terrifying Monster.”
To me the film worked on a two levels, both of which McDonald touched on; 1.) a great emotional performance and 2.) fun creature feature design. The ending also leaves you wanting more. Like many of the shorts the audience saw at Panic Fest over the weekend, this begs to be made into a feature but works just fine as in short-form.