Self Assembly (2014) – creepy, tender and comic short film!
This film opens with a tragedy – not a big thing to reveal here, because it is the start of the film. The reason to mention it though is because the opening really does give you a sense of the film’s tone. What we have is oddly dainty and slightly comedic music playing, while stark (but not cold) black and white images show a boy playing with his ball by the street. We sort of know what is coming but I was not prepared for how clearly and yet matter-of-factly, we would see what happened – it is a quite shocking piece of special effects.
This tone continues as the film keeps the music and in fragments tells us the story of a couple building a self-assembly cabinet which turns out to be assembling some sort of life within it. The ominous but yet slightly perky presentation works well, because at one time it is oddly comic but yet also threatening and so obviously horrific. Through the film it is possible to see the impact of this creature as that of a disrespectful child and then teenager, but the design of the creature and the tone of the film never let us forget that this is a horror of a sort. The building “wrongness” of it all never goes away and I found this sense of terrible tension to be great value, particularly in moments where it resulted in something happening.
The design of the creature is interesting, but for me it is the colder and familiar-but-creepy design of the faces, the cabinet and other aspects that make it constantly creepy. The cast work well opposite the special effect; Kinsella is good as the father who is pent up somewhat, while Kirwan brings across her character’s sense of loss and need for motherhood really well; they make the characters and the environment seem real – which means the horror is all the more creepy as a result. The camera doesn’t seem to move around much, which gives the film a stillness that benefits the content, it does feel like the camera is holding its breath at times, just as the viewer may in some tense moments. Likewise the black and white adds to this and generally the whole film has a great visual aesthetic which is creepy in a cold, ordinary-but-not way. Sullivan and Shanley manage to produce comic and tender moments throughout, again just making the horrific and creepy that much more effective.
It is a hard short film to define, but it is very good at what it does. It is accessible, recognizable, creepy, tender, comic, and horrific; and the way that the film is perfectly judged to deliver all of this across the running time is really very impressive. – bob the moo