Review by Jay Kay
AND THEY WATCHED (2015) is Written and Directed by Vivian Lin.
We move through this world observing amazing and terrible things. We see sights that make us wonder, make us cope as well as struggle with the notion of good and evil. In the short film AND THEY WATCHED by Vivian Lin; we find that even in the service of those in pain, we learn that our ignorance can come back to haunt us. Inspired by the reinstatement of the electric chair in the state of Tennessee and an incredible part of the 2016 ETHERIA FILM NIGHT selections; we follow a janitor played by John Cianciolo completing his duties in a dark and dreadful hallway leading down to an execution chamber. This section of a prison is a grizzly reminder of the finality with this weapon of death just beyond the glass. As the janitor cleans the window, straightens up the rooms and takes meticulous care to clean the electric chair after the latest execution, through incredible use of light, tense score and eerie visual effects, we understand that something did not fully leave the chamber or this earth. With a production design mirroring the most effective and insidious ideas guiding the frights of a haunted house, we learn that a spirit has returned to re-create the injustice and terror with the one person who happens to be there not for any other reason than he was paid and he watched.
Vivian Lin’s mind is a dark and just place. Creating a short for the series Funsizehorror.com, we become voyeurs to an element of an execution often forgotten… the ones watching and not connected at all to this horrific ceremony. With very little exposition until the final minute or so, we wonder why horror is happening to this man just doing his duty and nothing more. It is scary how so little but a flicker of lights, static on a radio or the flash of something maybe not there can pounce on us and feed our need to watch but aide in the same reason the janitor is being punished. Overall, this short film is what true horror embodies. A palpable build that leads into the idea ghosts are more than white sheets and troublemakers, they are messengers that usually want those who do nothing to understand the truth. This execution (no pun intended) of story, theme and message is created with a macabre beauty that is both potent and terrifying by makeup and visual FX artist Max Macdonald. His work as well as the research from Lin not only in capturing the rising entity returning to the chamber goes hand in hand with the unsettling result of the execution as a part of the final reveal.
Macdonald and cinematographer Paul McCurdy make the executed a showpiece through effective lighting and framing camera shots that give the chamber a feel like it is the gate to hell. This short film gives an authentic feel to the terror and history created through the death penalty. Every tense moment and visual is brought together by sharp editing from Andrew Gordon MacPherson that takes the elements of sound and score to a very powerful crescendo reinforcing the emotion and dealing out the morality of those who feel they are above doing something to stop it or just sitting back why the innocence are executed. Whether or not the prisoner played by actor David Scott deserves what he gets; Scott’s very effective and complex performance deals with many authentic deliveries of emotions including the last moments with his daughter, his last words alive and his last words in vengeance and terror. Making a statement and tapping into the power of our humanity and fear, a brilliant overall storyteller and filmmaker like Lin shows great promise with AND THEY WATCHED. Creating bite size horror treats with that sharp razorblade that cuts you in the end.
Watch it right now!