★★★★ Directed by: Aidan Weaver Starring: Mary Katherine O’Donnell, Jennifer Trudrung, Reginald Heinish, Jenna Goforth Short Film Review by: Darren Tilby
Unbearing is a film that sits – with no uncertainty – in the horror genre; something made clear within seconds as the opening credits begin: the music, setting the scene, exudes an atmosphere of apprehensive dread, one that refuses to relent throughout the film’s duration.
Lindsay, played by Mary Katherine O’Donnell (hardly a stranger to the horror genre) is introduced as our central character; a young girl who has mothballed on plans to socialise with friends in favour of a short but well-paid babysitting job: “they’re paying me a small fortune for maybe two and a half hours work.”.
The couple in question, Brian (Reginald Heinish) and Beth (Jennifer Trudrung, who also has sole writing credit) are, shall we say, highly strung. Lindsay puts this down to them both being first-time parents who have never used a babysitter before: however, we as the viewer know that darker things are at work here, with Beth, in particular, effusing a distinctly baleful aroma as she apprises Lindsay of the sine qua non of not entering the baby’s room; stating only that “Theo will sleep.”.
Taking inspiration from films like The Boy, Unbearing is a horror film which relies on the steady build-up of tension and suspense to deliver its final and shocking twist: and while the excellent cinematography and eerie soundtrack do a lot to create the apprehensive atmosphere required, this is hampered by the film’s use of exposition; too much is revealed at too early a stage, leaving the “shock ending” feeling less shocking than it should. Director (Aidan Weaver) and writer (Jennifer Trudrung) clearly know and respect the genre, and it’s to their credit that the film is as successful as it is, but I do think the movie would have benefitted from being a little longer, maybe a mere five minutes more, just to help build that all-important tension, give the main character more motive for her actions and aid the narrative; which at times feels rushed.
I don’t wish this to be seen as a damning criticism of the movie or anybody involved in making it; I’m well aware of the constraints of making a short, independent movie and it’s obvious that those constraints are to blame for the issues mentioned above; truly, the filmmakers have done an excellent job of making a type of film that benefits from a longer duration time work as a short film.
O’Donnell gives a sterling performance in, what I think is, her first lead role: she comes across as instantly likeable and sympathetic, and during the final act, the sense of dread and uncertainty oozing out of her character is palpable.
Both Trudrung and Heinish are excellent in their roles as the typical suburban family, but one harbouring a ghastly secret. What makes this pairing work so well, however, is the totally believable relationship displayed on-screen: Beth, the mother, is shown to be far more concerned about leaving her child alone with a sitter for the first time than Brian, the father; a dynamic most parents – particularly first-time parents – can relate to.
Having a good script to work from is a godsend for actors and here is a script that flows fluently and feels natural, at least in the context of the film.
Trudrung’s screenplay is one of the film’s greatest assets, and remains faithful to the genre’s cinematic tropes of taking everyday issues then assigning a monstrous quality to it: these can be things such as the fear of the consequences of sex (It Follows), the destructive nature of grief (The Babadook), or it can have religious invocations (The Witch and The Exorcist).
In the Unbearing, Trudrung has deftly explored the fears of parenthood, and the lengths parents will go to to keep their children safe with terrifying finesse.
The lingering camerawork and use of spine-tingling music more than make up for any shortcomings from the narrative issues discussed earlier; most of which really can’t be helped. And whilst there is overuse of exposition during the second act, this is still a very enjoyable edge-of-your-seat horror experience which has actually improved for me the more I’ve watched it.