Horror is a genre that relies more than most on its creator’s ability to create an atmosphere that ensnares its audience. Whether full-on terror, prolonged suspense, or just a clawing sense of unease, the best horror makes the audience feel something, and not the warm and fuzzies… The seven shorts in the Fanomenon Horror Shorts collection all achieve this, while bringing something new to the genres they explore, whether that be psychological horror (Hungry Joe), monster movie (Under the Lather), or horror-comedy (None of the Above).
More than anything, it is an ongoing sense of dread that suffuses Astrid Thorvaldsen’s Who Goes There? Set in 1880s Minnesota, the film centres around an isolated wooden cottage where two young Norwegian women look after their ailing sister. When a mysterious man turns up on their property, eldest sister Ingrid is determined to see him on his way, but when he reveals he is a doctor she is confronted with a choice: take the risk of letting a stranger into her family’s home, or leave her sister to die. But who – or what – is it she is inviting in?
Thorvaldsen makes it clear from the start the potential threat a man poses to this small female household, with Ingrid following the intruder’s every move with a wary gaze and a shotgun. The tension created by this physical and sexual threat making its way into the three sisters’ sanctuary is deepened by the subtle hints – an eerie whistle, a sinister smile – that the stranger may pose another, more supernatural threat; something that the god-fearing Liv seems to pick up on even as her more pragmatic sister does not.
Themes of religion, sin, God, and the Devil are prominent throughout, and Thorvaldsen underlines the hellish forces at work with effective use of darkness and red lighting. One particularly memorable image sees a series of wooden crosses fall from a wall as a terrified Liv cowers in the corner of the frame, abandoned by the God from which she takes her strength.
Part of the strength of Who Goes There? lies in its ability to tread the line between clarity and ambiguity. It’s never fully explained what it is that happened at the cottage, nor what precisely was responsible, but the audience is given enough information to draw their own conclusions regarding these mysteries, and most importantly, what those answers may mean for the women who lie at the centre of the tale.
Fanomenon Horror Shorts can be viewed on Leeds Film Player until 30th November 2020.