folklore

Foxglove (Short)

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In a remote area of Western Ireland, an engineer lives with his young daughter. He is there to continue work on a wind turbine project. The engineer decides to sign off on building more of these turbines, despite concerns of the environmental impacts. Soon after, it becomes clear that he and his daughter are being targeted by something ancient, and it is not pleased by the changes to its land.

I was lucky enough to get to view this short by director Brian Deane after discussing his previous short, Blight. While the two shorts are very different in theme and plot, they are both frightening tales. Foxglove is a chilling story set in modern times. What I really love about the plot is that it takes a modern concept like finding renewable energy and adds in elements of ancient folklore. Most of the folklore that is referenced in this short comes from old stories about fairy folk and fairy rings. Even today, folklore is a part of Irish tradition. The film made the combination of these two opposing aspects meld together to create a fascinating plot. While I will spare specific details, I will say the end of this short film made my jaw drop in the best way possible. It was simple, yet shockingly effective.

The acting in this short was also quite powerful. Bob Kelly (1916 Seachtar Dearmadta) played Dave, the engineer father. It is clear that Kelly’s character is concerned about the environmental impact of his wind turbine project, but circumstances are keeping him from taking the time to make sure it is safe for the environment. When his actions lead his family into darkness, the desperation that a father feels when protecting his child comes across as intense and genuine. Not only did Kelly star in this short, but he wrote it as well.

Foxglove makes excellent use of “unseen” characters. Throughout the story you hear the fairy folk speaking to Roisin, the young daughter. While we cannot understand what they are saying, or see them, Roisin clearly does. It almost makes it even more menacing not to see the very thing you are supposed to be afraid of. On the other hand, the wind turbines are also a bit of an unseen character. The turbines are shown from time to time, but even when they are not on screen you can hear them around the house. During the final moments of the short, the sounds from the wind turbines act as a score. It is a very effective approach that adds to the intensity of the last few moments.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what makes a short successful for me is that it works in the small run time it has, but it leaves me wanting more. This is a short I can easily see becoming a feature length film. What I would especially love to see is the plot going deeper into the ancient folklore surrounding the fairy folk. Luckily, I knew a bit about the stories from other films and books, but some viewers might not be as aware. When this short becomes available online, or if it is showing at a festival near you, run, don’t walk, to see it. Foxglove is a chilling story that brings the dark side of fairy tales into the modern age.

OVERALL RATING: 5/5 (short film scale)

Krampus

These days, Christmas does not mean what it used to. Christmas used to be a time of giving, cheer, and holiday spirit. Now it’s about trampling each other to get to the best Black Friday deals and being forced to spend the holidays with relatives you hate. For young Max (Emjay Anthony) Christmas was once a magical time. This year, he has reached his breaking point. After losing his holiday spirit, Max unwittingly unleashes the wrath of the evil Krampus. Now, his family has to fight for their lives to survive this Christmas.

When I heard that writer/director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) was making another holiday horror film, I was very excited. I absolutely loved Trick ‘r Treat so I had very high expectations for Krampus, especially since I was already familiar with the folklore. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Krampus will definitely be added to the list of amazing Christmas-themed horror flicks. What I loved about this film was that it took a sinister character from ancient folk tales, and adapted the story to fit in with the modern world.

The visual effects in this film were excellent. The CGI primarily focused around the little helpers that Krampus used to infiltrate the family’s home. The helpers were created in such a way that they were pure evil without appearing over the top. These characters are my favorite aspect of the film because they are absolutely adorable and terrifying all at once. This is the kind of character that Dougherty excels at utilizing, like he did with Sam in Trick ‘r Treat.

The characters that did not require CGI were great as well. The elves were dressed in a very smart way so that they didn’t require a lot of practical effects makeup. They were mostly just shrouded in rags with horns on their heads and glowing eyes. Krampus was of course very well done. They made him this massive horned beast with cloven hooves wearing a large cloak and covered in chains. His silhouette was so striking, and it definitely had a frightening impact when you see it for the first time. His face was probably my favorite part though. They made his face look almost like a doll or mask version of old Saint Nick, but it was distorted into a face of anger with eyes that were deep-set and demonic looking. He really was a beautifully dark character.

While the acting in this film overall was fantastic, Emjay Anthony (Chef) definitely stood out for me. In horror films I tend to find child actors to be either creepy as hell or so annoying you just want them to die already. Anthony not only did a great acting job, but he also managed to to portray a kid I could truly empathize with and I cared about his well being. Of course Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) did an excellent job portraying their characters’ fear while also being hilarious. Another standout performance for me was Krista Stadler (Mobbing) as the wise Omi (which is German for grandma). I had never seen her in anything else before, but I loved that she brought more of the traditional German folklore aspect of Krampus and that she spoke virtually only in German the entire film.

I found this to be a very compelling tale that really dives into what is wrong with the holidays in modern times. What better way to solve those modern day problems than with an ancient evil? This film delves into the fact that Christmas has become this greedy, consumer and profit driven time of year. It is no longer about “good will toward men.” It really does seem appropriate to use a character like Krampus to teach a lesson to those who have lost what the true meaning of Christmas is. There were only a couple aspects of the story that I didn’t enjoy as much. The first being that there are a series of events at the climax of the film that seem much too rushed. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t have enough time to give the events more care so they just crammed them all together in quick succession. The other aspect is the ending, but it’s not what you think. Obviously, I’m not going to give too much away. When the end finally came I felt incredibly underwhelmed by it. Don’t worry though, the film redeems itself before the credits start rolling so much so that I can’t imagine it ending any other way.

Krampus is a film that will be added to my list of Christmas movies I have to watch every year. It ties in old traditions with how the holidays are today. It has a compelling cast of characters from young Max to Krampus himself. There really isn’t much I can say about this film that isn’t good. Plus, this film is humorous enough with cutesy evil characters that you could probably introduce it to younger audiences (especially if they still believe in Santa so you can show them what happens when they are naughty). Definitely go see this film for the holiday season with the whole family, then rewatch it every year for Christmas.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10