Updated: Oct 26, 2019
Directed & Written by: #TommyBardal
Editor & Producer: #DidrikBjerkomp
Spores is a short horror movie from writer/director Tommy Bardal, based, in part, on a section from Kenneth Moe’s book Rastløs (which itself sounds interesting enough to make me want to learn Norwegian to read it). A masterclass in less-is-more creativity, Bardal’s work is a perfectly paced, lean and suspenseful film: the audience isn’t given much, but what we are given works faultlessly and effectively. If there’s a benchmark that short filmmakers should aim for, this is indubitably it.
The seemingly agoraphobic Ava (Margrete Ngo) arrives at her new apartment – the kind many will be familiar with: small, bare and modest – and sets to work making it feel a little homelier, accompanied by a soundtrack of 80s tunes and her warring neighbours. Settling down for bed in the evening, she spots a tiny patch of mold on her bedroom wall but wipes it clean with ease and goes to sleep. Woken up in the night by loud arguments upstairs, Ava sees that the mould has not only come back, it has positively bloomed! Over the next few days & nights, living in an increasingly agitated state between her strange neighbours and her rapidly deteriorating living situation, Ava is confronted by inexorable circumstances that are seemingly way beyond her control.
Eivind Torjussen’s cinematography captures the ‘Nordic noir’ aesthetic that is intriguing audiences right now, particularly in the UK. Establishing shots are bleak, snowy, and foreboding: the colour palette consists of icy blues, greens, and whites for the most part. Bardel is very adept at breaking this up, however, when the narrative calls for it. For example: at the beginning, when Ava is decorating her apartment, she does so in ordinary yellow/white house lighting to emphasise the ‘calm before the storm’; later there are villainous shades of red pouring in through the window of her front door, illustrating perfectly, without dialogue, the fear and danger that the outside world presents to her. As a matter of fact there is no dialogue in the film whatsoever, aside for some unintelligible (and occasionally frightening) noises from the people beyond Ava’s apartment, yet every emotion is cued up and executed brilliantly. Credit for this must go to Didrik Bjerkomp’s editing and Ngo’s naturalistic and sympathetic portrayal of the character; she really does carry the film entirely on her shoulders and does so with aplomb.
Aside from the aforementioned reference to Rastløs, Spores is highly reminiscent of claustrophobic stories by Kafka or even the weird tales of H.P. Lovecraft. What exactly, if anything, the titular ‘spores’ represent is never made clear, neither are we (or Ava) certain of where they came from or why they have their disastrous effect. In some short films these kinds of omissions can work against the story, but here the mystery is perfectly entwined with its charm. The audience feels powerless and confused with Ava, which only serves to raise the emotional stakes as things get progressively worse for her. I couldn’t also help but be reminded of the black mold in The Haunting of Hill House TV series, an allegory for the corruption of the house itself. Edgar Allan Poe was famously averse to allegory and sometimes horror can be its most visceral when what we see is what we get; even if the spores have no deeper symbolic meaning, they are still a great villain nonetheless: silent, deadly and relentless.
Already well-recognised for its quality, Spores has won awards and acclaim since its release in November 2018, including ‘best student film’ at the Vegas Movie Awards 2019 and ‘best horror’ at Feel the Reel IFF 2019. It’s a wonderfully shot film with a strong central performance and very intelligent direction to hammer its horrors home. As with all short films of this calibre, there really is no excuse for not watching it. Spores is as taut as Hemingway’s prose and as creepy as being home alone on a sleepless Halloween night.