Written and Directed by Anthony DeRouen
Starring Joseph Camilleri, Nadia Latifi, Jeanne Young, and Germaine Gaudet
Short Film Review by Euan Franklin
Horror can have comedy and comedy can have horror, and it’s often entertaining to watch both in action. We think of the Zombie Walk to the Winchester in Shaun of the Dead, or the gruesome liver-cutting scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – images both funny and horrific. The debut horror short from Anthony DeRouen is something similar, but not in a good way: unintentionally funny and stylistically horrific.
He Takes and Returns takes place in a Californian suburb, following a perfect family the night before setting off to Yosemite National Park. But the night holds confusing terrors as a mysterious creature, known as the Coactore (Latin for “money collector”), lingers around the house – terrorizing the family.
Although DeRouen has (apparently) written He Takes and Returns as part of a larger narrative, there’s very little substance to the film. We are immediately smacked by the low-quality image, which doesn’t look good enough even for an iPhone. A naive viewer could watch with open arms and consider the increasing number of theatrical releases made with amateur cameras (David Lynch’s Inland Empire, Sean Baker’s Tangerine, and the upcoming Steven Soderburgh movie Unsane) – the imperfection could be seen as part of some post-modern style. But within 30 seconds, you realise it was just DeRouen’s cheapest option, and he doesn’t even get the best out of it. In spite of this, it is the least of the film’s problems.
With the characters, DeRouen tries to convince us of a nuclear-family ideal that nobody believes in anymore. There’s the teenage daughter (Nadia Latifi), desperate to play another game of Jenga (really? Jenga?). There’s her father (Joseph Camilleri), who tucks her into bed – despite her being way, way too old – and sings awkward lullabies. And the mother (Jeanne Young)… well, there’s nothing interesting or significant to say about her, aside from the random friend of hers (Germaine Gaudet) who re-appears at the end of the film. We don’t care about what happens to them, and so the horror-movie tension is lost. Even worse, their conversations are constructed with atrocious dialogue – exceedingly clunky in both content and delivery – baring little resemblance to human vernacular.
The Coactore – i.e. the big, tall, hairy monster – doesn’t strike fear as much as boredom. It’s like an expensive Halloween costume used to frighten children and amuse grown-ups. I’ll admit: if the Coactore appeared in my house, I’d find it creepy but never scary. It enjoys activities other than killing, like knocking over things on the kitchen counter – hardly something to keep you awake at night. Regrettably, it has more in common with an annoying house-pet than a spine-shaking villain.
He Takes and Returns isn’t as tedious as its title, but it’s still another mediocre display of amateur filmmaking. It is entertaining in its badness and if DeRouen had decided to make a comedy, the film would be more engaging. Unfortunately, it’s meant to be serious – leading horror and comedy to come together in the worst possible way.