Teenage besties Amy and Tracy are preparing for their finals by smoking weed and discussing Amy’s worries over her future. She heads home, and Tracy sees a news report about an escaped killer prowling the area. After mistaking a late-night jogger for the psycho, Amy makes it home. The power is out, and she starts to get the feeling that she is not alone in the house.
The fourth short film by director Jim Rothman, Scythe provides comfortably familiar viewing, adhering to slasher conventions throughout. We get high school girls hanging out, a masked psychopath on the loose, a night-time foot chase, a big ol’ red herring and a shower scene, all crammed into a 15-minute run-time.
This tried and tested formula does not however, render Scythe ineffective, instead providing a solidly coherent base from which Rothman can showcase his abilities. And a showcase it is, setting up a story that Rothman plans to make into his first feature. Scythe started life as a suspense scene, with the opening scene in Tracy’s bedroom added to give a sense of what direction the feature length version would take, and it shows. The opening scene feels separate, even desultory, the girls’ conversation failing to tie in with the events which follow. When the full tale is told, a lengthy exploration of the friends’ fears and priorities will no doubt provide welcome characterisation. In the film’s current form however, the scene is longer than it needs to be, with Amy finding several different ways to express her feeling that she doesn’t know where her life is going.
Scythe consists of three distinct parts, with the girls’ bedroom chat forming the first. The second part takes Amy on her journey home. A desperate call from Tracy warning her friend that the ‘Grim Reaper Killer’ has escaped fills Amy with paranoia, although seemingly being chased along an empty street at night would, to be fair, shit me up a little too. From the jogger’s entrance, Rothman begins to play with classic slasher iconography. Stepping from behind a hedge to face Amy, the shadowy figure’s stance is instantly reminiscent of Michael Myers’. Indeed, with Scythe also having been shot in Californian suburbs, the streets are remarkably similar to those seen in John Carpenter’s horror classic.
It is the short’s third section though, where it really comes alive. With the power out in Amy’s house, lighting is provided by candles and torchlight, making for some impressively composed shots. The image is never underlit, with Amy’s torch allowing us to see just enough to make her hushed exploration of the house particularly tense. The oppressive score that dominates Amy’s journey home is used sparingly here, Rothman favouring silence. The director crafts a nice build during these climactic scenes, leading up to his film’s closing party piece.
Becoming ever more effective as it moves towards its striking conclusion, Scythe is a strong showcase for the talents of its director, who evidently knows the genre, and clearly shot it with that lengthier version in mind. Relying on familiar slasher motifs without the need for irony or sly winks to the viewer, it is unpretentious and unembarrassed; a short, sharp slice of straight-up slasher suspense. While the opening dialogue is somewhat disconnected from the whole, and we only get a tease of the Grim Reaper Killer’s favourite pastime, Scythe is brimming with promise. The feature length should be a belter.
Kevan Farrow (@KevanX)