Screams Cut Short Presents: AMBIGUOUS FIGURE (2012)
SCREAMS CUT SHORT presents:
AMBIGUOUS FIGURE (2012)
Written and directed by Johnna Troxell – Writer and Director (Caisson Films)
Film Review by Gregory G. Kurczynski
Greetings and welcome to SCREAMS CUT SHORT, a new feature here at Cinema Knife Fight that focuses on short horror films. As filmmaking hardware and technology continues to become more accessible and the Internet is providing new avenues for distribution, the good news is we’ve arrived at a point where pretty much anyone can make a movie and be the next Wes Craven or John Carpenter. However, the bad news is that many of them end up being the next Uwe Boll. For good or ill, we are experiencing a renaissance period for the independent short film, especially in the horror genre.
Many of these films are made purely out of love for the craft and the genre with little or no budget. Some are brilliant films that may lead the talent involved to doing bigger and higher profile projects, many are not, but few get any attention or notice. That’s the purpose of this column. To bring attention to the work of passionate filmmakers working in a format that you might otherwise be unaware of, and I am thankful to Cinema Knife Fight for giving me the opportunity to do just that.
So, let’s kick this off with AMBIGUOUS FIGURE (2012), a jarring and highly effective movie dealing with the dark side of a child’s imagination. Foregoing opening credits, we immediately fade in to a scene of The Girl (Jessica Cheek) in her bedroom happily playing with her dolls in a dollhouse. One doll a young girl, the other a woman, it is no coincidence that they bear a striking resemblance to the flesh and blood characters in what comes next. A transition from the dollhouse to the entrance of the home reveals The Woman (Jennifer Faith Ward), who I assume is The Girl’s mother, coming in through the front door. Without warning, she is attacked by The Girl, who viciously bludgeons the woman to death with a meat-tenderizing hammer. Without wanting to give much else away I’ll say the denouement is somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing.
Although Johnna Troxell has been developing and producing projects with her husband Brian through their company Caisson Films, AMBIGUOUS FIGURE is her first directing effort. I have to wonder what took her so long. Given the extremely short (three and a half minute) run time and minimal dialogue, she has proven to be very adept at telling an engaging, creepy story with very little. She knows how to compose a shot beautifully and is not afraid to revel a bit in the violence. Blood spatters and brains spill onto the tile floor, all in glorious close-up, but in such a way that it doesn’t seem gratuitous.
It also helps that Troxell has solid talent in front of the camera. Given the limitations and brevity of the script, the performances are outstanding. Ward is not given much to do except be terrified and die horribly, but she does it well and with a painful, almost heartbreaking realism. And Jessica Cheek as The Girl is just plain scary. Given the brutality of the murder her character commits, the complete detachment and lack of emotion she exudes as she continues to brutally bring down the hammer is beyond creepy. I can definitely understand why she was nominated for Best Child Actor at this year’s Cobra Film Festival for her performance.
But above all, the key element in this little film is the word “ambiguous”. At the end, I found myself with questions. What would drive a little girl to such murderous thoughts? Was she abused? Was she angry that she was punished for not doing her chores? Is she the reincarnation of Rhoda Penmark from THE BAD SEED (1956)? Frankly, I don’t want these questions answered and am content to consider them on my own. What I do want is for Johnna Troxell to make another movie and follow up with the promise she’s shown on this one. You can judge for yourself and watch it here.
Find out more about Caisson Films and their future projects at: www.caissonfilms.com.
© Copyright 2012 by Gregory G. Kurczynski