A sense of terror and a sense of comedy combine in The Procedure.
How does one create suspense in a film? There’s a multitude of factors from the setting of the film to the music— or lack of music— used. The short film format is perfect for setting up suspense since, by their very nature, short films don’t allow for much time to get mired in detail. All that matters is the tiny trip between point A and point B. But suspense doesn’t necessarily pertain to one genre and in this film, it plays on two fields— horror and comedy. In director and writer Calvin Lee Reeder’s short film The Procedure, the concept of suspense in a short film gets taken to a new place of tension through clever visual design as well as an excellent timing.
The film starts out with a man (played by Christian Palmer) walking out to his car before getting shot in the neck ith a tranquilizer. He wakes up in a sterile-looking facility with his arms and feet strapped down, an apparatus on his face forcing his eye open. When he screams, a loud alarm blares at him and a sign flashes saying Quiet Please. The situation is frightening enough as it is, but then a ceiling tile above him removes itself and a person (played by Frank Mosley) begins to be lowered down, butthole exposed, toward the man’s face. Both the audience and the man strapped down squirm as an unknown fate grows closer and closer.
Reeder’s ability to formulate tension out of a very simple concept is excellent but credit is also due to Jacob Rosen, the director of photography for the film. He creates a sterile looking environment that adds to the alien feeling that permeates the film’s circumstances. An example comes in the form of the Quiet Please sign. Red lettering and loud beeping, the Quiet Please sign signals an amount of forethought on the kidnapper’s part; they dedicated enough time to the procedure to make a professional sign. There’s also a professionalism inherent in the scene’s design which makes the ending of the film all the more unexpected. Rosen’s work aids the overall narrative of the film and creates an atmosphere of palpable fear.
Another point of execution that impresses is the film’s timing. Every scene is torturous in how slow the action goes, which isn’t a bad thing. Keeping everything a bit slow really makes good use of the film’s short time span and makes for a twisting viewing experience. Making the lowering of a person’s butthole just a molasses-like crawl toward the protagonist really amps up the film’s tension. The audience must wait alongside the protagonist in order to find out what happens next and the payoff is well worth it.
While dark, the film does take a comedic turn toward the end and this olive branch of humor doesn’t so much break the tension so much as it brings up more questions. Why does the film end this way? What was the true purpose behind the final act? Did the kidnapper ever want anything besides to torture the protagonist? These questions keep the film in mind past your first viewing and definitely make repeat watches a thoroughly entertaining affair. Keeping an air of mystery around the events of the film engages and tantalizes the audience which in turn makes for a short film well worth watching. The Procedure takes creeping suspense to create a fantastic short film with a strange but humorous end all thanks to its visual design and timing.
The Procedure was released on September 8th, 2016 and runs 3 minutes and 43 seconds long. The film was featured at Sundance Short Film Festival and was the winner of the Short Film Award for U.S. Fiction.