Wednesday, 2 December 2015


Another week, another fantastic short film.
Short films work best when they portray uncomplicated stories with a punchy narrative, preferably one that builds until one key terrifying moment — much like an urban legend.
As a relatively young country much of the United States' folklore comes from apocryphal campfire tales and ghost stories. As the US is home to easily the biggest filmmaking industry in the world, it seems a perfect melting pot — creepy folklore presented via the ideal medium of short films.
Recently, Sean Lee took on the tale of Long Island's most infamous haunted highway, Sweet Hollow Road — and the short has been taking plenty of prizes on the festival circuit.
Is this a trip worth taking? Or is it a road to nowhere?
Read on...


Dir: Sean Lee
Starring: Alice Kremelberg, Ryan Vigilant, Sean Patrick Folster

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: This is a short so I'll try not to spoil too much here, but continue at your own risk.

Emily (Kremelberg) is on her way to visit her sister out on Sweet Hollow Road. As she drives along the leafy stretch she suffers the misfortune of a flat tyre. Luckily, as she waits on the dark roadside, a Good Samaritan stops to assist. James (Vigilant) is a handsome, charming, if rather intense gentleman, who changes the wheel before sending Emily on her way.
However, shortly down the road her car loses the new wheel, leaving her stranded once again.
Shortly afterwards James drives by once more and, after revealing that he's also headed to her sister's home, offers Emily a lift.
She gets into his car and off the pair set into the darkness. On the drive James explains how lucky Emily is that he came along, especially considering the dark and spooky history of the road.
As he recounts just two of the scores of supernatural tales attached to the road, Emily finds herself starting to feel uneasy.
Is it just his ghost stories... or is it James himself?

WHY IT WORKS: What is it about a late night drive along an isolated rural road to chill the blood? Director Lee is obviously familiar with the inherent scares of the scenario and he mines the premise for every drop of tension. The story, written by Lee, is simple but all the more effective for it, drawing the audience in through some well-played, startling twists and turns.
Sweet Hollow was actually produced at the Tisch School of Arts, but that doesn't mean that it suffers from amateurish production values. Instead it is a highly polished and impressive work, assembled by a keen and talented young team of up-and-comers.
The film looks far more expensive than its modest origins might suggest. The cinematography by Henry Zaballos is impressive and accomplished, playing up the deep shadows and using a muted blue colour palette to heighten the unsettling atmosphere.
What's more, the film utilises plenty of extreme close ups, cleverly heightening the claustrophobia of the confines of the car and ratcheting up the tension.
This works especially well when focusing on the faces of our leads, especially the intense, brooding glare of Vigilant, or the wide, panicky eyes of the stunning young Kremelberg.
Of course, it certainly helps matters that the pair are such excellent actors. Kremelberg has a wealth of experience in film and TV and it shows, she carries the bulk of the film on her shoulders, drawing the most sympathy from the audience. She's undoubtedly very pretty, but she's also very talented. Her reactions to the increasingly nightmarish events around her are believable, her responses natural and convincing. She nails everything asked of her. Great work.
On the other side of the coin, we have the charming, but unnerving Vigilant. He is also very convincing, never overplaying a role that could easily descend into an overly broad caricature. He's a good-looking guy, so you can understand how the character of Emily could have been drawn to him (especially considering her predicament by the roadside), yet he is able to give James a subtle edge, a frosty brittleness beneath the warm smile. He's superb and makes for an excellent foil to the earnest Kremelberg.
With a simple but spine-chilling story and some top-notch performances bringing it to life, Sweet Hollow would have enough to recommend it, even before you add in the very clever touch of utilising the real-life ghost stories of a genuine paranormal hotspot.
The use of the Long Island folklore is seamless — in fact the short seemed very much like an extended sequence from TV's Supernatural — and, let's be honest, fictional events do become that little bit creepier when you know they're based on stories that plenty of people believe to be factual.
Lee and his crew were also clever enough to shoot the film in Melville, New York, only about a mile away from the actual Sweet Hollow Road. The location really works in the film's favour, it's an unnerving setting and (obviously, considering its proximity) is entirely believable as the short's fabled namesake.
In short, this is a gripping little film that delivers on all fronts — a sterling cast, a cool premise, some wonderfully atmospheric and disturbing visuals, not to mention a great soundtrack. 
If this is any indication as to what the new wave of horror filmmakers are going to be producing, our beloved genre is in safe hands.

SO WHERE'S IT AT? Sweet Hollow is in the midst of an award winning festival run. In the meantime you can check out the trailer here.

Sweet Hollow Trailer from Sean Lee on Vimeo.

For more information on the film and where you can see it, check out its official Facebook page. Give it a Like while you're there too, I'm sure Lee and his cast and crew would appreciate it.

10 WORD WRAP-UP: Real life ghost stories add to an atmospheric horror short 

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