Directed by: #DavidETolchinsky
Written by: #DavidETolchinsky
Last Summer, in Illinois, a series of gruesome murders took place. Left at the scene of each murder were sketches signed by a 'Cassandra' that depicted a series of different houses. It soon became apparent that the houses in the sketches were where the next killing would take place, though officers repeatedly failed to identify them in time and thus, the murders continued, growing ever more bizarre and brutal in nature. That's until the latest sketch is recognised as a farm in Monroe and Crawley, a police officer patrolling in the area, is sent to investigate and get the homeowner out as soon as possible.
This is the premise for Cassandra, a new psychological thriller from David E. Tolchinsky, who takes on the role of writer and director. It's an original and instantly gripping setup that appeals to the same morbidly curious corner of our brains that finds us so attracted to the true crime genre. However, without spoiling the increasingly unexpected events that unfold, it is as the film veers further from this genre into more probing and real-life inspired psychological horror and even the supernatural that it truly becomes a formidable beast all its own.
With a mere twelve-minute runtime, arguably Cassandra's biggest achievement is how genuinely chilling and downright scary it is. Tolchinsky makes incredibly effective use of silences and a creeping, piercing score (also produced by Tolchinsky) to bring a sense of tension to the piece almost as soon as officer Crawley enters the farmhouse right up until the end. While a lot of the horror takes the form of some truly disturbing imagery, there are a few instances of more traditional jump scares present. Where this would normally act as something of a red flag, the constantly unnerving atmosphere means these jolts of sudden fear are effective and feel earned.
To elaborate further on the aforementioned disturbing imagery, special mention must go to Sarah Sharp, the SFX artist as there are some wonderful practical effects used in the film. It's difficult not to say too much and ruin some of the dark surprises Cassandra has in store but rest assured, there are some brilliantly spine-chilling designs here that have been executed to a professional standard. In fact, that goes for the whole film; everything about Cassandra looks and sounds slick, with production values that make it feel like a high budget feature film condensed into a short narrative.
With everything in this film working to such a high standard of quality, it would be a huge shame if the actors at the heart of it did little to sell it. Fortunately, every performance here is strong and convincing. Sara Bues, who plays officer Crawley, does a wonderful job of expressing concern yet remaining stern, with a brilliant scene towards the end of the film. Meanwhile, the homeowner, Dr Field, is instantly recognisable as a man who is stoic yet ravaged by some form of painful history, thanks to an understated turn by John Fenner Mays. It is these two central performances that help lend the film a believability that makes the horror feel that much more effective.
In all, Cassandra is a fantastic psychological horror that is difficult to find any fault in. From its simple yet fluctuating premise to its omnipresent haunting score, from the impressive practical effects to the believable performances, from some truly original designs to thrills that feel earned, the film hits every beat and does so with aplomb. Tolchinsky has created a piece of horror that scares you, makes you think and leaves you amazed. Not bad for twelve minutes.