Written and directed by Joshua Long, Australian horror short Post Mortem Mary has been creeping through film festivals all over the world – including Australia, Mexico, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Norway, Romania, Korea, Scotland, England, and several festivals across America. Clearly, Mary is not one to settle, and it’s paid off.
Post Mortem Mary has nabbed awards for Best Foreign Short Film at Atlanta Film Fest and Idaho Horror Film Fest, and Best Short Film at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in Spain.
The short is a crawling gothic horror set in 1840’s Australia. We follow young Mary (Stella Charrington) and her mother (Melanie Zanetti) who run a post-mortem photography business together. Mary is – naturally – a bit uneasy around the recently deceased, much to the frustration of her mother.
Their work brings them to a small farmhouse where they meet the devastated mother of their newest subject. As they prepare, Mary’s mother must step outside to comfort her – inconsolable in her grief – leaving Mary alone to confront her fears and get the job done. Mary must do all she can to make the very dead daughter look alive.
Clocking in at just over 9 minutes, the short uses the stillness that’s naturally found in this small, rural setting to slowly build tension. It’s the type of fear that sneaks up on you and squeezes tight.
A driving force in this tension is the string-heavy score by Jesse Breckon-Thomas. The low, humming bass pulls the action forward as frantic, pricking violins push the audience back. It’s a powerful dance that flows well with the cinematography by Ben Nott (Winchester, Jigsaw, Daybreakers).
Post Mortem Mary is shot from the eyeline of its young star, bringing the audience down to her level in order for us to connect with her fear. Mary’s role is one of passive reaction; as a child (on a job, no less), she’s stuck without any real agency. She only has one line of dialogue – a line of fearful protest.
Long plays on that idea of our childhood fears and how they can seem to be justified, even when they’re completely irrational. But unlike a monster under the bed, Mary has good reason to be terrified. She’s working alone with a dead body, which itself is a scary situation, though logically she’s perfectly safe (though anyone who has ever watched a horror movie will recognize that that’s not necessarily true).
Along with the musical score, sound effects play a memorable role when combined with the FX work by Chad Atkinson (Hostel: Part II, Planet Terror, Emmy Award winner for The Pacific). The special makeup effects are so subtle that they blend right in to look – and sound – completely natural.
We’re quite fond of short horror films here at iHorror. A well-made horror short is the perfect appetizer for the full course of a feature; they’re an excellent way to set the tone. A theatre in Brisbane played Post Mortem Mary before a screening of Hereditary, which – thematically speaking – is a fantastic pairing.
So in that vein, think of this as a “level up” for your movie marathon nights. Before you watch your frightening feature, pre-game with a scary short film that fits the mood. And if you’ve got the chance to see it, Post Mortem Mary is definitely one we’d recommend.