I’m becoming more convinced that short films are the future of horror stories. There’s a reason the portmanteau genre is so prevalent; they just get in, get out and deliver scares in an efficient way. Features that originated as shorts rarely have the same impact or staying power as the original film. Lights Out is probably the most obvious example, a short film that gets under your skin but stretched into a feature with unnecessary twists and turns that diluted the efficacy of the short that started it all off.
Boo, the directorial debut from writer/producer/actor Rakefet Abergel‘s, is an exception to this, a horror short with great performances and a streak of irony running through it. Jared (Josh Kelly) is waiting to pick up his fiancee Dev (Abergel) from her AA meeting when she bursts into the car covered in blood. The rest of the plot unfolds in flashback, leading to a grisly denouement.
The benefit of a horror short is that it’s a quick and effective way to deliver scares. Abergel is obviously a talented filmmaker; it’s well shot and the narrative jumps are navigated clearly. However, she is less interested in scares than the theme of addiction. The dialogue is laden with meaning and subtext, with some clever wordplay that also serves as foreshadowing, in a nicely allegorical way, similar to the way racism is handled in Get Out.
The problem with this is that foreshadowing usually works best as a slow build, happening in the background while the main plot takes place in the foreground. There isn’t enough time in a short to convey this subtly, so the subtext becomes overt text and it loses a lot of its nuance. While the ending is appropriately gruesome (And the make-up and special effects look great), it doesn’t feel properly scary due to the detached nature of the dialogue. Comedy and horror can be a tricky combination to pull off at the best of times. If it’s not pitched perfectly the comedy can dilute the horror, and this is unfortunately the case here.
Abergel is a compelling and likeable lead and really sells the trauma of what she’s gone through, while Josh Kelly is appropriately frantic as her bemused fiance. However, too much time is spent with her ironically detached fellow recovering addicts and it drags the film to a halt. Laura Wiggins and Parisa Fitz Henley are great; their dialogue is witty and heavy with double entendre and they would be welcome comic relief in a longer film but here their scenes feel more like a distraction than anything else. Also Michael Villar is very broad in his role as a stock redneck-horror-cliche, with his arc being the most disappointing part of the film.
Boo is a positive example of a short that would probably work better as a feature length film. The story has clear potential and the script is witty and clever. The addiction element is explored sensitively, albeit with tongue firmly-in-cheek and despite a killer punch line, it’s neither funny enough or scary enough for a proper horror. I felt there was too much emphasis on the clever foreshadowing and not enough on the horror of the situation, which results in a well-made film and a strong debut but one that’s never particularly scary.