Written and Directed by Stuart Wheeldon
Starring Nigel Barber, Bern Deegan, Rachel Prince (Warwick)
Short Film Review by Chris Olson
Atmospheric and gripping, short film The Telephone from writer/director Stuart Wheeldon is an homage to classic murder mysteries, with a strong sense of modern storytelling. Teaming up again with Nigel Barber, who plays one of the lead roles (see our film review for In Limbo), and the excellent Bern Deegan, Wheeldon delivers a seductive and mesmeric psychological thriller that has some outstanding talent both sides of the camera.
The plot follows journalist Richard (Bern Deegan) who is chasing a story about a girl who went missing whilst staying at an unassuming village pub. The owner Max (Nigel Barber) claims to have no knowledge of the girl, and also strongly denies the strange sound of a ringing telephone that Richard can apparently hear. Deciding to stay a while, Richard soon begins to suspect there is more to Max than being a landlord and expressionist artist.
There is a strong sense of foreboding throughout short film The Telephone which is greatly enhanced by two aspects of the filmmaking. The DoP George Peck crafts some amazing visuals using the small locations, allowing a palpable tension to overwhelm the viewer, especially during the scenes in Max's art-studio-cum-living-quarters. Furthermore, the sound design from Jordan Frater is phenomenally gripping, laying heavily over the top of the movie to weigh the audience down into the drama and regularly picks out the horror notes, such as his use of church bells. Wheeldon as director combines these elements well and delivers his spooky story with deft skill. He also edited the movie which was an aspect that completely enhanced the swift and compelling pace that complemented the characters and plot.
In front of the camera were two powerful central performances. Deegan is a tenacious on-screen presence, combining a fantastic emotional layer with his character's investigative prowess. It's Barber who steals the show, though, with an incredible turn as the charismatic Max. His performance was an eclectic mix of charm, style, and brutality that was utterly compelling.
There were a few sequences which were slightly jarring, in terms of keeping the viewer cemented in the atmosphere. One of these was a sequence in a phone box where the audio was too low and another was a scene of Richard by his laptop in the daylight. It seemed a shame to jolt the audience out of the darker tone the short had curated, which utilises some fantastic nighttime sequences and black and white flashbacks.
Aside from that, this is a remarkable piece of short filmmaking reminiscent of Hitchcock's classic Psycho. It tells its story boldly and with superb talent.