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Feature Review - Dolls

By midlandsmovies, Apr 4 2016 04:59PM

Dolls (2016) Directed by Keith Allott

Starring Leo Denton & Jess O’Brien

Music by Kris Tearse


“They only move when the music stops”.


A music box is an instrument that produces automatic sound and was developed from musical snuff boxes of the 18th century. Playing on that wording, this short is not a ‘snuff’ film, but does contain a fair amount of dark delights for horror fans


Directed by Badshoes Film's Keith Allott, Dolls opens with a slow camera move towards a suburban living room doorway, where we hear a mobile telephone conversation between adolescent Zoe (Jess O’Brien) and her friend. This mundane setting proves a false sense of security for the short which is filled with nasty surprises and also demonstrates the film's prominent focus with sound early on.


Whilst on the phone Zoe struggles to hear the voice on the other end amid the chimes of “ballerina music” coming from the direction of her off-screen brother. Moving from what I thought was soundtrack music (non-diegetic) to sounds the character can hear (diegetic), I witnessed the first of many techniques the film uses to throw the audience out of any comfort zone. No mean feat in a short just over 3 minutes long.


After exclaiming she needs to “shut that little idiot up”, Zoe finishes her conversation and proceeds upstairs. Quirky and omniscient camera angles on a staircase pull the viewer along with the protagonist toward the sounds coming from above. Creating intrigue into the unknown, it also showcased a strange visual discord which complimented the bizarre melodies the audience can hear.


Cutting to another extreme angle inside the room, the viewer then sees her young brother Jimmy (Leo Denton) from a dolls-eye perspective where he is having a child’s tea party. Shot in the gloomy darkness, the flickering candles provide a strange luminescence to the spine-chilling proceedings about to unfold.


With 3 dolls around a table, the short quickly shifts the audience from intrigue to terror as Zoe questions what she is witnessing and receives mysterious replies from her brother about what is going on. It is here where the film excels in getting a lot of information across in just a few brief shots whilst some well-used shaky handheld close-ups cross cut the dead eyes of the toys with the scared eyes of Zoe.


Raising the tension along with the sound, the film’s box of delights takes its inspiration from musical statues as the viewer begins to question how lifeless these baby mannequins really are. Turning the light on could reveal dark truths about the dolls as Zoe’s doubts result in further questions and increasingly risky actions.


With a twisting conclusion, this reviewer does not want to reveal any spoilers but this is a very well made and eerie short with a neat twist on the sub-genre of ‘alive’ dolls in horror. From the maniacal Chucky in Child’s Play to the more recent Annabelle via this year’s The Boy, the presence of innocent dolls is only rivalled by clowns in fright films involving curious children.


Like all good shorts, Dolls ultimately relies on one solid idea played out simply and with earnest intentions it ratchets up the suspense like a tension filled spring in a music box. Winding through the film’s key themes, the filmmakers have intertwined an effective story and great design – with inspired use of music and sound – to provide the audience with enough shocks and jumps to create a unique reinvention of a well known formula.


Midlands Movies Mike


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