Directed by: #DanGitsham
After his wife is murdered, a father (Anthony Head) hunts after his daughter, Ella (Lisa Backwell).
The reaction to short film Ella could be met with some confusion. Even though there are benefits to show-don’t-tell and retaining mystery, exposition is needed.
Head is guiltily forced on a mission and, although lacking a convincing scream, delivers a serious performance. His co-star, Backwell, wears a creepy hollowed-out dog’s head along with a red cloak which calls to mind Don’t Look Now and Little Red Riding Hood. Both actors should be more emotional considering father and daughter are planning to kill each other, but they are convincing performances nonetheless.
Director Dan Gitsham simultaneously delivers instructions to the actors and cinematographer Christopher D. Jones. He also seems able to solve logistical problems, like setting a shed on fire, without actually showing it. He plays to Head’s strengths by casting him as the father.
His and James Driver’s script builds suspense and embodies the hunter becoming the hunted. The dialogue works to the point where one word conveys character development. The rest is Head shouting “ELLA!” which might sound a bit Suicide Squad, but is contextually natural and memorable. Conversely, some might find it unintentionally hilarious when Head says “Everything’s going to be alright” before firing a shotgun.
What is serious is Jones’s desaturated cinematography containing dark shadows making the blood stand out. The depth of field keeps the red figure of Ella out of focus amongst the forest greenery. Other techniques include the camera zooming in on some drawings to elaborate their importance and closeups emphasising hesitation along with claustrophobia. The scene where the camera pulls in on the father and the background falls away homages Jaws whilst suggesting approaching terror. Conversely, the flashbacks are visually different with golden light and slow movement similar to Gladiator. The image that stays in the mind though is Head despairingly and intensely looking down the camera.
James Taggart’s editing aids the cinematography throughout. Specifically, the opening has a slow zoom on the house, a quick red flash and then the title. The jump cuts continue when the father washes the blood off his hands evoking desperation and guilt. Later in the forest, these techniques build tension. When Ella attacks, there is a cut to when she started to snap. When someone is shot, the body is off camera as the suggestion is more effective.
Dave Colebrook’s haunting score consists of deep, echoing sounds with increasingly loud gongs whilst breathing and scratching noises connotes a chasing beast. There is also a just audible singing and faint ringing.
Just as cold are the locations with the predominant setting being the woods. This is presumably difficult to work with considering the obstructing branches, but a classic horror setting famously used by The Blair Witch Project because the monster could be anywhere.
The monster in this case being both Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf who is this time disguised as a daughter. The film touches on themes of man’s relationship to beast, people devolving into animals, a person’s obsession with fiction and a young mind’s malleability. Other concepts include cynicism surrounding a ‘perfect’ family and the consequences of a person’s actions.
Ella features great acting and very good production, but is almost too edgy because of its harming of a dog and child. Admittedly, its subversive approach to Red Riding Hood is intriguing, although with little explanation. It will find an audience, but there is difficulty imagining it being someone’s favourite film.