By: Bradley Hadcroft
The global stock of short horror films is very much on the rise, not just because of a resurrection of the anthology format (V/H/S, Little Deaths, ABC’S of Death, The Theatre Bizarre) but also as an increasingly respected standalone art form. Shorts are no longer just a device for getting ones directorial foot in the door as we see more and more short-form projects reach fruition as full-blown features.
It is with this in mind that I turned my attention to Dysmorphia, a first-time feature from Scottish director Andy Stewart. The festival buzz it was creating since premiering at Grimmfest 2012 has been pretty intense, seeing it pick up "Best Practical Effects" in Vancouver. It also secured the holy grail of the horror genre at the Rio Grind Film Festival in Vancouver when an audience member actually fainted. So what is so special about this little movie shot over two days for just $250 and described by Bloody Disgusting as “a 12-minute masterpiece”?
Fore-armed (no pun intended) is fore-warned so I did a little research and discovered that Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a complex mental condition based on the concept of distorted body image. The sufferer experiences severe psychological distress over the perceived ugliness or “wrongness” of one or more body parts. In some extreme cases this can result in self-surgery. Suffice to say that when I entered the twisted world of Dysmorphia it was probably best not to become too attached to anything.
Next I contacted the extremely amiable director Andy Stewart and he very kindly hooked me up with the means to view it. Although literally in the middle of shooting the follow- up, Banquet he took time out to have a discussion about his work. He is another example of the upcoming breed of indie filmmakers that are both accessible too and caring toward their target audience.
The film is indeed a little gem. The atmosphere and tension is expertly drawn and its subtle nuances vividly enhanced by some fantastic camera work. There are some techniques on show here that transcend “papering over the cracks in the budget” and become ingenious. Check out how Stewart uses blurry pictures on a digital camera to further the unease using another partition of perception. Dysmorphia aims for old-school in terms of showing less is more and graduates with flying colours.
This subject matter has been topical in both recent and bygone era horror cinema; Xavier Gens explored similar themes in his segment of The ABC’s of Death. And it is no surprise that it has been warmly embraced as “Quite possibly the greatest short film we have ever seen" by the makers of body shock horror opus American Mary. However. it’s the amazing short Cutting Moments from 1997 that I drew the strongest comparison from; described as “the sickest film ever made” by Tom Savini, it is in terms of tone the spiritual sibling of Dysmorphia.
In terms of theme this was what director Andy Stewart had to say - “On the subject of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, it wasn't so much BDD that I was attracted to, so much as Body Integrity Identity Disorder, a condition often mistaken for BDD. I simply took parts of both conditions and bastardized them into one. What drew me to the subject matter was that I had seen a documentary about people living with BIID and I was amazed by the lengths that these people will often go to in an attempt to remove the offending limbs, even going so far as lying with their arm on a train track. It's that mindset that intrigues me. How do you get there in your life? That's what Dysmorphia is about and, in a way, Banquet too.”
Structurally the film is limited by time and budget but it never stoops to clichés and even manages to pack a very artfully-done sting in the tail by way of jet black humour. It’s by no means blood-soaked but prefers to drench the viewer in an atmosphere of claustrophobic dread instead.
The real star of the show for me though is the outstanding sound design from David Mckeitch. A triumph from start to finish, it’s a master class in the creation of unease. His contribution is best described by director Andy Stewart - “With regards to David's involvement, it came along at a time of desperation to be honest and it couldn’t have worked out any better. Time was dragging on and we had been working with another sound designer, who had relocated to Barcelona, which wasn't ideal.
"So we parted company with him, and David came as a recommendation and he did an amazing job. He turned 'round the whole sound of the film in a little under a fortnight. We didn’t record any sound so every single thing you hear was built by David. He's a very talented sound designer. He is also working on my new film, Banquet, and I hope to continue the working relationship with him”.
The strong sense of confidence and commitment surrounding Dysmorphia and the great press it’s been getting mark Andy Stewart as one to watch. Now part of a proposed trilogy I’m sure horror fans will be hearing more from him sooner rather than later.
DYSMORPHIA can be seen at the Bradford International Film Festival and at the A Night of Horror Film Festival in Sydney, Australia.
The film can also be seen on mobile app Popcorn Horror from Friday, 12th April.
BANQUET was completed in April 2013 and will be ready for festival submissions in June.
SPLIT will begin shooting on August 15th, 2013.