The Tell-Tale Heart (2020)
Dir. McClain Lindquist
Starring: Sonny Grimsley, James C. Morris, Mikah Olsen, Teren Turner
Genre: Psychological Horror Short
There is something charming and attractive about short films. There is an ingenuity and passion that tends to paint the screen over a small span of time and as a horror fan, I’ve come to see a lot of imagination and interesting effects while I’ve explored shorter works lately. The format brings out the need to tell a concise and engaging story that will leave an impression in less time than your average TV episode. It’s a challenge, and thankfully in the right hands, it can result in some excellent work.
I’ll be the first to admit that The Tell-Tale Heart is not my favorite piece of literature. I studied it to death in school, it’s been referenced in media all over the place- but I’d heard about a short film adaptation that, with some research, looked like a unique experience. Once I was given the chance to check it out for myself, my horror-loving independent film supporting self jumped at it, wary as I might be of the source material.
To be blunt and up-front about it: this is probably my favorite adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe classic I’ve seen. Staying true to the original premise, the Narrator (Grimsley) explains to the audience through the fourth wall the details of his well-planned and rational decision to murder the master of the house (Morris) that he attends to. It is only when the police arrive (Olsen and Turner) that his guilt begins to unravel his genius machinations.
What makes this version of The Tell-Tale Heart so interesting is the heart- no pun intended- that everyone involved with the final product seems to have put forward. Grimsley bleeds charisma in every scene, and when he’s not busy conspiring with us, his breakdown is sudden due to the nature of the film’s runtime, but it’s satisfying for the viewer and clearly a role he’s relishing as both on-and-offscreen. It’s easy to give him immense credit due to the weight the Narrator has to carry, but the supporting cast deserves a nod, too. Morris does a fantastic job making the Narrator’s victim feel so benign that you can’t help but pity him once the deed is done. You can tell that the investigators, rather than being hapless and cavalier as many adaptations are inclined toward, are driven and not being fooled by the Narrator’s charm or confidence, always an edge of suspicion to their performances.
It’s also hard to believe that McClain Lindquist is a first time director witnessing how stylistic and sharp the entire project winds up. Even knowing how the story concludes, it was hard not to feel the anticipation build and my heart catch in my throat waiting for it. The entire creative team deserves a hand for creating a fascinating piece that strays from its origins just enough to exercise their own creative visions before jumping back on track. An extra enthusiastic thumbs up to the special effects team, though, who make the most of the moments their work is on display to add a shock and punch that’s both unexpected and absolutely delicious for fans of the genre.
In the end, this version of The Tell-Tale Heart is a solid mix of modern and classic storytelling with a strong visual style. At times, it offers an interesting look at the idea of the unreliable narrator while presenting an earnest approach to a well-worn story. While it’s ramping up for festival release, fans of classic and modern horror would do well to keep an eye out for the chance to check it out if it happens into their area.
For more information, check out the project on Twitter (@telltalefilm) or at the film’s website at https://telltalemovie.com