Scarecrow [Lee Charlish, UK, 2018]
Sometimes, we find ourselves shaking, screaming, at that film on our screens, baffled how these characters are making those same mistakes that every single character makes in a horror movie, especially when a line such as this is thrown out there - has neither Natalie nor Thomas, our main protagonists in the film, ever seen any kind horror film where people ask for directions? In saying that, if it wasn't for our characters' ignorance, we would not have these wonderfully entertaining, hide behind our hands horror film narratives.
With an overall budget of just £500, the seventh short film of writer/director Lee Charlish, Scarecrow provides a short punchy goody bag for horror film fans, replete with classic horror tropes; the unsettling score, the middle-of-nowhere location and a singular, otherworldly figure that seemingly promises salvation but as an audience, of course, we know better. Whilst also pressing all the buttons for those components that make horror the successful genre it is, Charlish throws in an interesting mix of domestic disturbance between a middle-aged couple, who appear to want nothing more than to be rid of one another.
Kudos to the filmmaker for grasping the nettle when it comes to understanding that, especially for short films, intrigue and suggestion in a title is everything. The word ‘scarecrow’ conjures up many connotations of childish terror and nightmares where the ordinary becomes uncanny. The actual function of the Scarecrow itself is one of fear, yet the hollow void both within the humanlike hay-filled figure and the location in which the body is placed (usually an expansive field) prods within us that sneaking notion that something, soon, is going to fill that emptiness and by the general feel of this movie, it's not going to be anything close to a yellow brick road experience.
The film commences with an easing fade into the first image of the story, a perfectly framed red 1960s Triumph Herald Coupe stamped in the middle of the bright green spring background of an unknown countryside dust path. Credit must be given where it is due, with Chris Pemberton's score providing ominous textures right from the start through to the slamming climax of the story, significantly in the moments when the troubled couple stroll through the countryside in search for fuel and which, like the Pied Piper, deftly leads them to our central titled character.
The initial music on the radio that leads us into the first scene immediately plants us into the main foundations of conflict – our feuding husband and wife protagonists Thomas and Natalie set against the backdrop of a happy, free-loving spring afternoon. As we see Thomas desperately scrape the barrel for any remaining fuel in the engine, we are signalled towards the main event of the story – the breakdown of the car.
Deeper frustrations reveal themselves as the characters attempt to keep up appearances within their unhappy relationship. The striking red racecar is a strong juxtaposition with the couple themselves, who appear to have stumbled out directly from a 1950s housewives’ party. With the harsh red speed of, what seems to be, Thomas' special motor, compared to the dullness and outdated colour draining from Thomas and Natalie, it sets up the main premise that each half of this duo only wants freedom, albeit from each other and their marriage.
The overall progression of the plot within 9 minutes has been structured with fluidity in mind and does, in most instances, keeps up with itself by moving quickly but making sure the audience is glued in. However, there are some minor instances in terms of editing, acting and writing, where the urgency of the story and the passion with each character, which start strongly in the first half, seem to get lost later on. The natural development of each character does hinder the overall product delivering an all-round mightier punch, missing the opportunity for characters to change and grow with sufficient justification from the main event in the film to the final climax.
Yet in all consideration, as a whole unit, Scarecrow is a quirky folktale that masters the musicality of horror and idiosyncrasies of exaggerated character that make up an engaging fast-paced flick. The small hiccups that jolt the building tension of the film can easily be overlooked when those high-stakes flashing images introduce us to our main centrepiece of mystic evil. In summary, Charlish’s short film proves to be a fun watch and will satisfy the appetite of any horror fanatic hungry for that unsettling feeling. But for the faint-hearted, and as the poster claims, you should “be careful for what you wish for”. You’ve been warned.
'Scarecrow' was a film submission in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.