Midlands Feature - Bella in the Wych Elm
By midlandsmovies, Apr 12 2017 07:42AM
BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM
Tom Lee Rutter, Director/Writer/Producer
From the deepest darkest Black Country comes a new Midlands movie from local filmmaker Tom Lee Rutter. Described as a “pseudo-doc horror mystery” it concerns the urban legend of the locally famous Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm story.
Hagley 1943 is our location and time, and a voice-over introduces the film and sets the scene. The 30-minute short has been edited in post-production to look similar to old films with added scratches, the flickering lighting of an aged projection and is also shot in stark monochrome. Inserts of static pictures of the Birmingham Star further cement its use of styles from way back in the past, as well as its regional connections.
Taking a whole year to complete, it celebrates the dark heart of the Midlands as a group of young boys in a forest uncover a human skull buried deep within a dirty tree. Originating from a little-known (outside the area it seems) folk tale, the legend has continued with strange graffiti which has appeared on the Hagley Obelisk near to where a body was found.
The boys mention their discovery to no one and the film veers from the historical version events – it is based on a real investigation – and suggests there was a more mysterious element to the whole affair. This is just one of many theories on how the skull came to be there, including the possibility of the natural AND supernatural.
In real-life the victim, whose murder was estimated to have occurred in 1941, remains unidentified but Rutter takes a very interesting premise and turns it into much more than the tale itself.
Some special effects include a mix of simple makeup and spooky transitions which were fine but what worked far better was the old-style “juddery” model effects which, again, was a superb nod to past movie-making techniques. This is further buoyed up by the liberal use of photos and etchings from the bygone era.
One area of improvement could be the sound. In an attempt to recreate the aural styling of an old vinyl record the filmmaker has added suitable after-effects but the quality did not quite work for me and could do with some EQ-ing and further post-production.
An eerie string score is far better however and much of the film is dialogue free – again, harking back to the silent shorts of the era. I would also have preferred a shorter run time as the story is slight and could be tightened up in editing.
That said, you can clearly tell Rutter has a keen interest in this fable and the film is a mix of fact, fiction and theory about the local story itself. A passion project in all senses, the short is a unique look at an esoteric and obscure slice of history and is as much documentary in parts as it is an imaginary tale.
Rutter has tried to use multiple effects to recreate archaic techniques with a different look to most mainstream Midlands films. Yet despite its length, the director has infused the film with imagination, artistry and resourceful skill to tell a tall tale of murkiness and intrigue. A dark delight.
Midlands Movies Mike