Directed by: #AmirNazar
An old man named Frank is haunted by a vengeful spirit. He needs to figure out how to get rid of it before something really nasty happens…
The intriguing aspect of Amir Nazar’s Dark Secrets is that it is like a good, old-fashioned ghost story. This short film is subtle and slightly harrowing.
Frank (John Grillo) and his daughter Amy (Sarah Whitehouse), are a refreshing change from the stereotypical horror targets whilst still conveying vulnerability. Grillo is great at playing the desperate or frightened whilst at times possessing sadness and loneliness. Nonetheless, there is a lack of sympathy with Frank as Grillo’s voice mostly has the same cartoonish tone whether he is fearful or making tea. Conversely, Whitehouse acts convincingly and- when she is recounting news reports of some murders- closes her eyes with subdued pain and fear. Disappointingly, the monster itself does not look scary, but is effective in communicating through unearthly whispers like a buried part of the subconscious. Even its subtitles creepily flicker and float out of frame.
Nazar’s skilled direction and editing of this production are more successful. The opening scene where the camera fades into the house and pans around the kitchen establishes the setting. After Frank is introduced, the camera cuts to black to build suspense and indicates that something bad will happen. Later when the house shakes, the cuts between camera angles are quicker to build tension. Above all, neither Nazar or cameraman Jake White trip over each other, making the production feel like a collaborative process.
Regarding #cinematography, the film is visually dark which works well for the country house setting. The location should be cosy and more at home in a John Constable painting, but thanks to White, the rural idyll becomes a haven for monsters. This darkness is evident when the monster is reflected in a mirror on the right of the frame, as though just out of the corner of the eye. There is also an intensity and claustrophobia to the tight shots on the actors’ faces whilst important visual clues are added such as unopened letters, family photographs and a shed.
Another strength of the film comes from Michael Walters’s score which conveys foreboding atmosphere with its use of strings and is not overused. If anything, it should sound more harrowing to drive home the narrative’s tragedy.
Nazar’s script is decent with the characters speaking believably. Although not conceptually deep, the dialogue warrants that the viewer pays attention as it provides vital information such as that coming from a news report for example. The only problem is when Frank sits down to talk to Amy and, after a short interruption, they begin discussing the local murders. Surely a “how are you?” would have been nice? However, this could have been down to the film’s restrictive runtime.
This probably explains why certain themes are not fully explored, but at least they are present. There are ideas to do with morality, guilt and the lengths people would go to protect the ones they love. This also suggests taking the elderly and their loneliness for granted.
Overall, Dark Secrets works as a ghost story, but lacks substance for it to stand out and will not appeal to those after satire or gore. Conversely, due to the technical skill, there is hope the film will find a wider audience or for the crew to prosper from it. At least the word ‘dark’ is not being applied to a franchise film for a change.