Imagery is a powerful tool in horror films, and the most powerful movies have images that stick in your head long after you leave the theater, or when you’re trying to sleep at night. Director James Quinn (Flesh of the Void) knows this well; his films have often been cited and even criticized for their shocking imagery. He often relies on framing the perfect image that represents the mood of his films, a skill learned from his experience with photography.
While his past work has featured disturbing and shocking imagery and storylines, his newest short, Daughter of Dismay, has a more muted and dreary approach, showcasing a more restrained and gothic filmmaking style.
The short also boasts many impressive feats. It is the first narrative short film shot in 70 mm film for IMAX and boasts multiple award-winning crew members, such as Joseph Bishara (Insidious, The Conjuring) who did the score, producer Justin Schenck (The Exorcist TV show), foley artist Martin Langenbach (Suspiria) and sound engineer Steve Maslow (Empire Strikes Back).
Without giving away the plot too much, the silent short follows an emotionally damaged witch who enters a forest to make sacrifices to fulfill her desires.
Overall, Daughter of Dismay creates a slow and “dismal” atmosphere that permeates throughout the landscape, which is almost a character itself here. While in some areas the short is held back by pacing issues and the character designs are a little over-the-top, some of the disturbing imagery near the end holds up to Quinn’s previous work, making a more mature and, dare I say, audience-friendly film.
The short begins with some imposing and grand landscape shots, which look all the more impressive in the IMAX format. The forest is a huge part of this short, and so the setting, Ohio, works here.
The first half’s landscape and music builds tension steadily throughout the short until an act of mutilation halfway through the film. In this otherwise relatively tame short, the mutilation scene is satisfying and nicely executed right in the viewer’s face. Where his other films have much more frequent gore in them, this buildup makes the scene much more meaningful and disturbing.
The whole short, which is about 8 minutes in length, feels like an ethereal nightmare. The actions of the characters are slow and drawn out. A feeling of dread permeates the short, with the viewer in the dark especially with the absence of dialogue.
One downside of the short is that the costuming and acting are too dramatic within the realistic setting and storyline. Some of the props and makeup seemed out of place and unnecessarily complicated. For example, the witch’s hair or the mask worn by another character. While they would have been more normal for Quinn’s other films, it just didn’t work here (although, I was a big fan of the witch’s nasty look).
While it is very moody and foreboding, not a lot happens. It would have been nice to see a little more story. If you were to see 10 images from the short, you would basically get the plot.
It’s nice to see Quinn expanding his work and getting more opportunities to create with his subversive take on cinema. I am excited to see where he takes Daughter of Dismay –especially since he is planning on extending it into a feature- but hopefully he will have the opportunity to smooth out some of the problem areas in that process.