I watch lots of horror movies, and after years of paying attention to what really scares me and what really gives me nightmares, I can let you in on a secret: there are very, very few “Horror” films that are truly scary to me. Filmmakers try so hard. Too hard. They don’t get it. They don’t understand that real horror is not the shocking jump-out-at-you nonsense of the Paranormal Activity series or Sam Raimi’s Grudge tragedies. And it’s definitely not the gore-porn of the Saw franchise. These filmmakers fail to frighten fans like myself because they try so hard to be horrific. It’s like a chef trying to make a recipe more and more intense by adding more and more spice until you can’t even tell what the dish is anymore.
Real horror is much more insidious and simple. It’s everyday life. It’s Real. It’s your neighbor, and I don’t mean the recluse at the end of the street. It’s the friendly one right next door to you with the new car and the nice lawn. It’s the girl at the front desk who wears gaudy, floral print dresses and smells of marijuana and greets you every morning with a lopsided smile. It’s the clean-cut bartender who you didn’t even get a good look at, but who just took your drink order.
It’s the chance encounter of a moody teenager and an old, blind man fishing on the bank of a stream in Ireland.
Writer/Director Randal Plunkett gets it. He calls his short film Walt an “Irish Fairy Tale Horror” film.
James suffers from neglect at home, until he meets Walt. Walt encourages him to learn how to fish, but he is not all that he seems.
As I watched the trailer for Walt it seemed like a charming tale about real people. Hopeful. Maybe even heartwarming. That is… until around the :49 second mark. Watch the trailer for yourself. You’ll feel it. The shift in the music. A sense of wrongness, although everything on the screen seemed fine. Normal.
Then, around the 1:00 min mark, the words “We die a bit to live again” come on the screen. And then you know. This is not right. Make sure to watch to the very end of the trailer.
Walt weighs in at 25:00 minutes, and like the trailer, it takes its time, drawing you in, letting you get emotionally invested in the characters and their relationships, and letting the words “this is a horror film” percolate in the back of your mind. The story is simple, as a fairy tale should be.
Walt was filmed at Dunsany Castle estate in Ireland. Most of the film takes place outside, where lush trees and rolling greens border a gurgling, rocky creek. John E Regan excels as Walt, a cheerful, blind retiree, spending his days fishing in the stream. Cian Lavelle-Walsh plays a troubled teen named James, and Sorcha Lavelle-Walsh has a smaller part as James friend from school, Shane Kennedy and Hannah-Leanne Crowley play a couple schoolkids. That’s it.
Technically, the movie is very well done. Nice, clear picture and clean sound. ADR, foley, sound fx, and score are all high quality. I only wish there were some wider shots of the gorgeous Irish countryside. I think Randal should put a helicopter on his Amazon wish list.
The only weakness I can find is the same thing that makes the movie so frightening: it builds up slowly, and some may not be used to that. I felt paranoid for the first half of the film, waiting for something to jump out, and watching for signs foreshadowing the horror to come. The sense of wrongness is there, but very subtle. As I said, this is what makes Walt a real horror film. When the horror happens, it isn’t a gory blood-fest explosion of Quentin Tarrantino violence. This is a Fairy Tale after all.
Five people and a riverbank, and Randal Plunkett pulls together an Irish Fairy Tale Horror film that not only won the best drama award at the LIT film festival, but would give Stephen King nightmares. So for a refreshing change, put away that overblown Hollywood horror film and give Walt a watch.