This Webby Award-winning horror short shows flashes of visual and technical brilliance, begging to be expanded upon.
We get another chance to watch a short film make the leap to a larger format this week. The Birch, directed by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton, was an award winning short released back in 2016. It featured as part of CryptTV’s line-up of modern horror shorts, with the monstrous Birch creature quickly becoming an iconic figurehead for the channel. Now it is set to premier as a 15 part series, hosted on Facebook Watch.
Much like our look at Andres Muschieti’s Mama, it will be interesting to see how the initial short film is expanded upon. Melton and Franklin’s short has striking visuals and confident camera work, but lacks depth.
The Birch (2016).
A young man bullied at school turns to a family folktale: The Birch, a nebulous forest spirit is said to protect those who call upon her with a special talisman and a binding promise.
The visual quality of The Birch is top notch. The cinematography is crisp and vibrant. There is a slight sepia tint to the visuals, giving the proceedings a feeling of reminiscence of past events. The use of beige and tan backgrounds make the red of the bully’s clothing (and his blood, naturally) pop.
Chris Wallace’s creature effects are excellent. The Birch itself feels plucked from a Guillermo Del Toro feature like Pan’s Labyrinth. Practical costume work combines with effective body mechanics from the actor to really make the creature feel alive and forbidding.
Hints and Whispers.
The sound work is initially off-putting, as we get voice over that is hardly above a whisper. Overall, the voice work can be a struggle to make out clearly. On the plus side, the directors often have the dialogue itself fade out when the protagonist is being menaced, helping to create a psychological immediacy to what he is experiencing. As with The Birch creature, the rest of the cast is good at letting their body language do the talking.
Just a Taste.
On a technical level, The Birch displays real talent. I don’t see either Milton or Franklin on the IMDB page for the series adaptation, which is a shame since they commanded the camera adeptly. Chris Wallace does consult on the effects, so hopefully The Birch herself will remain a vivid presence.
The short has enough hooks to get me interested in the potential mythology of The Birch. As a stand-alone horror film, there’s not a whole lot that is breaking new ground besides the idea of a sentient, lethally protective forest spirit. I’m glad Facebook Watch is working with CryptTV to adapt this concept for a longer format. We’ll bring you a review of their efforts there when we’ve gotten enough episodes of the series under our belt to form an impression.