Underrated Horror: Tell (short film)

I’m not going to lie, I have a soft spot for independent film. There’s something so very earnest in a personally funded and produced feature. The men and women of the indie film scene put their blood, sweat, and tears into a extremely personal narratives that almost always subvert genre staples that Hollywood likes to perpetuate. To any film buff it’s almost like a breath of fresh air, and if any one genre desperately needs fresh air it’s the horror genre.

Let’s be real. You’ve seen all the tropes and clichés. You know what will happen if teenagers do drugs and have sex, a black person tries to be heroic, or a group of survivors split up to cover more ground. Sequel after sequel after sequel; it’s all been done before. That’s what makes unique and original films like Ryan Connolly’s Tell so very special.

The plot of Tell is very straightforward and seemingly Poe-inspired. A man has the last of many arguments with his girlfriend, and things devolve for both his situation and psyche rather quickly after that. It’s a little violent, but the execution fits the build-up. It is a concept that has been done before, but what’s innovative here is Connolly’s approach. His goal is to keep us on our toes and it works. On more than one occasion, I questioned whether what was happening was really supernatural or a product of our main going crazy. It was hard to predict his next move and the tension is ever present throughout Tell’s runtime.

The tone is consistent throughout and the filmmaker was smart to keep all events confined to one location. The audio is moody and the film benefits from its smart blueish colour grading. The narrative is simplistic, but effectively utilized thanks to a single-character focus.

This indie filmmaker used his knowledge of the internet to build a community that would be well prepared for this low-budget, 32 minute horror thriller. I can’t say I’m tremendously surprised either that Connolly marketed the online release well, as the man is pretty much a legend to internet cinephiles. Connolly is the host of Film Riot and Film State (two very popular internet shows focused on cinematic techniques and culture). On Film Riot, Connolly details low budget techniques for the amateur filmmaker and it’s clear that he implemented all of his own teachings in what can only be described as a captivating and visceral horror film.

While the film hits many highs, it isn’t perfect. From a technical perspective, the cinematography could have been better. While I’m sure the goal of shooting the film on an HDV camera with a letus 35mm adapter was to give it a more gritty feel, the clarity of each shot suffers as a result. Camera balance is also a bit off every now and then. At the end of the day, however, these are rather small complaints as Tell is indeed an indy wonder. If you have 32 minutes of free time on your hands, I would suggest you use them watching Tell. It’s completely free.

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