Some online forum I follow with a sideways glance got themselves all in a kerfuffle over the film adaptation of Ghost Story. “Pretty but boring”, “boring”, and “atmospheric but not scary” were all common complaints among the critics. These points do have merit, but they also could be coming from a very different expectation of what a horror film should be. These people will hate Exit.
Exit is not bad, not bad at all. Production is impeccable, the cast is quite solid and the story is precisely in the scope of a short film. This is an atmospheric short though, and there is nothing in the way of a jump scare or shock horror. It’s a quiet film that offers some suspense and the uncanny. The film is based on a short story by Harry Farjeon, written in the early part of the 20th Century. A young couple is married during the Christmas holiday, and as the festivities wind down, Todman (Ed Coleman), the boorish best man, goads the family members into offering entertainment. Geeles (Julian Glover) reluctantly offers up a story about a magic trick that doesn’t make things disappear, it makes them be “de-created.” The “de-creation” is such that if it’s completed, the remaining people will never know who was that was removed. This starts out as a logic puzzle game until Todman persists in seeing the trick demonstrated.
The set, costumes and language do much of the work to set the mood and tone. There’s a hint of cartoonishness in the rendering of the supporting cast, but it’s a short film and that can be forgiven. Todman is a standout from the very beginning, as the camera isolates him and it’s clear he’s an outsider to the group for some reason. Geeles is sedate, harmless and a bit drunk, so while he drives the story forward, it remains to be seen who will push the story into the uncanny. There’s no need to get into spoilers, as this film is essentially a one-trick act. The script follows through on what it promises and the final scene is cause of some kind of unease.
Director Daniel Zimbler is skilled and knows how to orchestrate the balance between dialogue and camera. Each cut moves things forward and highlights the details of the moment. Unfortunately, he may be too deft with his direction because an attentive viewer will see him tip his hand early in the film. This doesn’t ruin the film, but it does shift the tension from which person will disappear to waiting to see if the viewer’s theory is correct. Mine was.
Fans of English ghost stories (E.F. Benson, M.R. James) will appreciate the quality and style of this short film. It’s not as stuffy as it sounds, but it’s more of an uncanny story than a straightforward horror film. There’s too much of the latter in the world right now, so this was a brave choice and a mostly successful effort. I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for Zimbler and Coleman’s next moves.