On Norra's 25th birthday, she and her brother inherit the deed to their family's small cabin. With this auspicious birthday, she starts seeing the spirits that have been haunting her brother and father for years.
Writer and director Annalise Lockhart crafts a unique, suspenseful, and deeply insightful short film. Applying a 70s horror aesthetic to a social commentary on black ownership in America (both physical and cultural), we are treated to some drawn out tension-filled sequences delivered via a healthy slice of social subtext. Opening on protagonist Norra’s (Victoria A. Villier) 25th birthday, we linger outside the house for a good long while. Peering in through the window, we are very much supposed to pick up on the fact that Norra and her family are being watched. These types of shots are repeated throughout the film, establishing a visual motif signalling an ethereal presence stalking our main characters. Finally switching to the interior, we are introduced to our protagonist and her family, father Jeffrey (Ron Brice) and brother Tucker (DeLeon Dallas). This is clearly a close-knit family but the spectre of threat that hangs over them is made apparent from the off via some expertly applied horror conventions from Lockhart and cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby.
As the truth of her family’s haunting is revealed to Norra, the film takes a deep dive into the psychological impact of constantly being watched and scrutinised by a malevolent force that may or may not strike, but absolutely will not leave. A big part of this film’s effectiveness lies in the fact that it is not pointedly about race. Lockhart knows the racial, social and historical landscape of America enough to know that it does not have to be. The very fact that the story focuses on a black family owning property is a statement in itself but as the ghosts haunting them begin to reveal themselves to Norra, the fact that they are all white is similarly no accident.
After Nora’s first supernatural encounter she is asked by her brother how she felt when the spirit looked at her. The response she gives (“wrong”) encapsulates one of the most prevalent aspects of the African American experience, the constant depiction and thus inherent internalisation of inferiority. Being made to feel undeserving of success or ownership over the land on which you live.
The film also speaks to questions about belonging and generational struggle. The manner of the familial curse that Norra inherits almost mirrors the coming-of-age process in which many African Americans become aware of the nature of the systems designed to disinherit them. As a result, Norra’s journey seems to reflect the considerations and affirmations of belonging that African Americans must consciously make to ensure the social and cultural inheritance of their country.
Any social commentary the film makes is elevated by expertly applied cinematic craft. Opting for more of a 70s cabin in the woods aesthetic as opposed to a contemporary slasher style adds an historical feel to the visuals as well as bringing a slow burn tension, which works well for the premise. The camera work alternating between shots that seem to ‘creep’ up on Norra and long shots that highlight her and her family’s isolation also maximise the suspense. The well-worn expression (and suppression) of fear contained in the delivery of the cast’s performances cements the authenticity of the premise and the audience experience as a whole.
All of these factors are brilliantly woven into a well-performed and intensely immersive horror experience. While the subtext is there to be discovered, the film can still be enjoyed as a great piece of supernatural themed entertainment. Annalise Lockhart guides both cast and crew to some excellent work and a highly recommended short film.
Studio: Dweck Productions/Flies Collective | Year: 2021 | Genre: Supernatural/Suspense | Duration: 14 Mins | Suitability: Mature
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