The latest short film from indie horror outfit 4 Leagues Media, PSYCHO PATH is a fantastic addition to their repertoire. I first heard of 4 Leagues Media through my friend and local writing group member Kayla Stuhr, who is part of the company and has produced, directed, acted, and written in these films. Like many of their short films, PSYCHO PATH is designed for the circuit, where the crew recently won numerous awards for their horror short Tethered. I was lucky enough to get a special code to watch PSYCHO PATH online, so I’m going to give you my honest opinion here. Nevermind that I know Ms. Stuhr. She told me not to be too nice.
But enough of that. Let’s get into the details of this film. I’ll try not to post anything too spoilery. The film is only 12 minutes, so I don’t want to give away too much.
A General Gist of the Plot
Some have said that the found footage genre is dead. For a while, I thought so too. It seemed like Cloverfield was the culmination of found footage and nothing could really build upon it. Then I saw the horror flick Creep. If you’ve read my brief film reviews, you know that I loved Mark Duplass’ film. The trick was Creep’s ability to justify the found footage mechanism. It was upfront about the fact that the characters were specifically attempting to create a home video, so all of the cinematography made sense within the context of the story.
PSYCHO PATH is much like Creep in that regard. Much of the 12 minutes of the film is captured by the personal camera of our main character, Laurel Rhodes. A vlogger who has a social media channel called Off Roads, Laurel takes her camera with her on backpacking adventures to find interesting trails, waterfalls, scenic locations, and probably anything else that captures her eye in the deep woods. This time around, she’s seeking a specific forest tunnel of some kind, but gets sidetracked by a storm and stumbles upon a lone, empty cabin.
Inside, inevitably, Laurel finds strange runic markings. More importantly for her situation, she finds a dry loft where she can rest her head as the storm passes.
Then, all hell breaks loose. I won’t say anymore here. You can’t make me.
My Thoughts on the Film as a Work of Art
As with most short films, the plot is simple enough. It’s the execution of the story that sets a horror short apart from the milieu. In haphazard fashion, as is my wont, I will now tell you how I think PSYCHO PATH measures up.
Abigail Wilson nails her role as Laurel. It can be difficult to carry the momentum of a story when you’re the only face on screen for the majority of the time, but she manages to seem real, nuanced, human, and exactly like I would expect a backpacking vlogger to be.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is not as good as she is. In fact, I’d say this film’s one downside is the awkwardness and somewhat stilted nature of the scenes with characters other than Laurel. This is not enough of a criticism to take away from the overall effect of the film, but it should be noted.
Aside from Wilson’s stellar performance, PSYCHO PATH is carried by its aesthetic and ability to capitalize on excellent moments of terror. Let’s talk aesthetic first. The lighting is great, the interior of the cabin is magnificently styled, and the clips of previous episodes of Off Roads are a really nice touch that sets the mood and establishes Laurel’s character brilliantly. Of course, no horror film is complete without music that colors the scenes. Composer Matt Vucic delivers a haunting score that genuinely impressed me.
Okay, now for the moments of terror. Let me explain what I’m talking about. HEY, HERE’S A SPOILER: when a man enters the cabin in the middle of the night, Laurel starts to climb down from the loft to announce her presence. Then, while she is poised halfway up a ladder in the background, the man begins to drag a body into the quiet room. We sit there, paused and tense with Laurel, as we pray for the man not to see her or hear her creaks as she slowly tries to hide herself again. OKAY, SPOILER OVER.
That kind of moment is pure. It shows what Tethered began to tell the world: 4 Leagues Media understands horror. They understand what makes us afraid, and how to exploit those moments in creative and sense-heightening ways.
The filmmakers are also well-versed in that old adage: show, don’t tell. They let us, the viewers, make of this film what we will. They let us tell ourselves the tale. They are careful to give us only the details we need to conjure the demons in our own imagination. If anything, the film left me wanting just a few more answers, just a little more information. It’s a delicate balance between revealing so little that your audience doesn’t understand the film and revealing so much that your audience is bored with what is inevitably not as scary as they made it out to be in their minds. Fortunately for us all, 4 Leagues Media seems at home on that tightrope.
Plus, the runic symbols are freaking cool. It’s difficult to create a thing that is objectively cool these days, with so much of our art shrouded in irony and cross-references.
The Final Analysis
PSYCHO PATH is really good. It’s not a perfect film, but it is great at showcasing the skill on offer at 4 Leagues Media. I’ve now seen two of their shorts, and I can say that their range is broad as well. Don’t let the simplicity of the story fool you: there is nuance here. This isn’t just a cookie-cutter film crew. I expect to hear a lot of great things about them in the future, and honestly I can’t wait until I’m able to watch another of their movies.
Overall, I give PSYCHO PATH 8/10. But remember kids: numerical scores are usually dumb. What I really mean to say is: see the film if you are lucky enough to have the chance.