Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Short film review: SPLIT (2014, directed by Andy Stewart)

split short film andy stewart
How do you follow up a successful, horrific powerhouse of a short such as Dysmorphia (2012)? A film about a man who feels compelled to self-amputate his limbs, played out in painfully realistic fashion on screen. Well, it seems what you do is up the stakes and go all-out David Cronenberg style body horror.
Split starts as a simple story which most of us would be able to relate to. A man (unnamed, played by Austin Hayden) is deeply depressed following the break up of his relationship (his ex is played by Shian Denovan, who was in Sawney - Flesh of Man). He doesn't have the energy or motivation to get out of bed, and ignores all attempts from friends to see if he's alright. In flashback, we see how idyllic their relationship was, but also later, why it ended. He can't let go. He texts and calls her, but the only response is to tell him to stop contacting her.
split short film andy stewart
He raises himself out of bed one day and notices a large boil on his chest. Naturally, he gives it a good squeeze, sending a sickening spurt of puss splashing across the bathroom mirror.
Things are going to get worse, though, as his hair begins to fall out and, as well as some nasty lesions appearing elsewhere on his body, his fingers have become bulbous, puss-filled digits. In one cringe-worthy moment, he pulls a loose finger nail off. It's an effect and image which feels like a gut punch to even the strongest stomached viewer.
The deterioration goes on, as does the flashbacks, but I won't spoil any more than that.
split short film andy stewart

Directed by Andy Stewart, who used to run horror website, this second short expands on the biological and psychosomatic themes of his brilliant first, and with a slightly bigger budget, and longer running time (just under 18 minutes here) he has managed to make an engrossing, disgusting but emotional film. As mentioned, the back-story will be a very familiar situation for most of us, but thankfully, despite the fact we might actually feel like we and our worlds are falling apart, we don't (or at least hope not) have the physical meltdown the man in Split experiences.
With very little dialogue, Stewart has managed to speak volumes. The use of sound (one of the prime elements of Dysmorphia too) and practical effects (by Grant Mason, who had worked on Nightbreed, Hardware and Sleepy Hollow among others) is paramount to creating a visceral, unflinchingly nightmarish scenario. While it may remind viewers of last year's Thanatomorphose or Contracted, it manages to do more with the subject in its short running time than those films did over their feature length (Thanatomorphose felt like an endurance test rather than a film). There's also elements of Cronenberg, most notably The Fly, but those comparisons are unavoidable when dealing with the subject of bodily mutations. While it shares nothing similar in tone or subject, the progression of deterioration reminded me of the often cruelly dismissed cult classic The Incredible Melting Man. Which is fine in my book.
split short film andy stewart

Keep an eye open for festival screenings, as it's an impressive piece of work, and the third film, Ink promises to continue the theme of physical horror. Stewart deserves a bigger budget and a chance to show us what he could do with the long form though. I, for one, can't wait.
9 out of 10

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