Directed by Jarno Lee Vinsencius
Starring Demis Tzivis, Ida Gyllensten, Kase Chlopecki, Jennica Landén
Short Film Review by Annie Vincent
Jarno Lee Vinsencius’ latest short film, The Madame in Black, plays on those familiar urban legends we all knew as children. In this version, Alex and his sister Emma conjure the Madame by saying her name three times into a mirror. As children this was a game played in a dark and dusty basement for amusement. 22 years later however, they realise this is much more than a game as it becomes a vicious reality for Alex, Emma and their respective partners (Harry and Sarah), when they meet for an evening at Emma’s home to celebrate her birthday.
It’s clear to see why The Madame in Black has won numerous short film awards. The opening montage plays with those familiar conventions we expect to see and which set that eerie tone for a jumpy horror: a flash shot of a witch burning at the stake; an older sister goading her younger brother into a scary game; the familiar tinkle of a child’s jewellery box cutting over the Psycho-esque screech of a violin.
From the outset, Vinsencius’ talent for camerawork is evident. He carefully uses natural light and shadow to create that ominous atmosphere and as the film progresses to an evening 22 years later, he uses the dark, carefully framed silhouettes and mirror reflections to create angles which suggest the group are being watched. The episode in the woods is really exciting, when we see Alex dragged along the floor and the camera follows Alex and Emma running back into the house, again delivering that voyeuristic effect for the audience. The accompanying score is also effective in that ‘crazy old 80s horror flick’ way; an observation Harry makes to Emma as the evening appears to be drawing to a close. Whilst the suspense-building music will sound familiar and lead you towards those big jump moments as expected, careful attention has been paid to other sounds which ramp up the tension: the edgy scratching of a colouring pencil against paper, the ethereal chanting of the witch, crunching footsteps in the forest.
Unfortunately, where lighting, sound and editing have combined to create a credible horror short, the script hasn’t worked quite as well. The English subtitles (which could do with tidying up) may be to blame for some of this, but ultimately there is little depth to this story and the premise – that a group of adults in their late 30s would play out their childhood games with little incentive - is weak for the audience.
The lead actors, Demis Tzivis (Alex) and Ida Gyllensten (Emma), deliver solid performances but it feels like even they wanted there to be more story here. Both deliver facial expressions and a subtlety in their lines which would indicate their characters know more than they are letting on, and I wish there was more. Horror audiences have come to expect more developed plots and it is clear that more that could be done here.
Overall, this film is deserving of the credits given to Vinsencius for the production and is well worth a look if you’re a horror short junkie. There is certainly talent here and I hope we see it again in future productions, but do ensure you revel in that eerie atmosphere and those classic jump moments when you see this, as the script is likely to leave you wanting.