Writers and directors in independent short horror films are literally looking everywhere for inspiration. It might come from a sign, a snippet of overheard conversation, or a headline in a newspaper, but when that lightning strikes they’re ready to move on it. Such was the case with Domonic Smith’s short film, “Van” which all started on an app called Hooked which features stories entirely told by text and instant messaging.
“I just kind of stumble on the app,” Smith explained. “I would go on there every day and read through the stories, and I found one called “Waiting for You”. I kept thinking about how much I really liked the story and I wasn’t sure how it would translate over to film but I really want to try.”
Smith contacted the author of the story and asked for permission to adapt it. He explained that there would be things that he had to change, but that it would, at the core, still be the author’s story. When he received a resounding “Yes!” from both the author and then the owner of the app, he was ready to start adapting.
In “Van”, we open on a young woman, Laura, nodding off while she is driving. Suddenly, she’s sitting at a crossroads and her friend, Julia, is calling her on video chat. The friend is obviously in distress and is begging to be picked up. Laura notices blood on Julia’s neck and assumes Julia’s boyfriend has abused her in some way. She agrees to pick up her friend and asks for the address, but when she receives it, she realizes she’s less than one hundred feet from the location.
Enter the ominous, titular van.
“There’s a lot of old folklore about a Devil’s carriage that carries souls to hell,” he pointed out. “So I was thinking what would be the modern equivalent of this creepy carriage? What’s the creepiest vehicle today? And the idea of a van came to me. It’s the creepy van that carries souls to hell.”
The van in question is indeed creepy. A catering van with a creepy devil in its logo (who would order from them?!), it seems to sit and stare Laura down as she approaches it all the while madly texting her friend to find out where she is. This van is really a character itself. It exudes menace and instills dread no matter the angle of filming.
The director came up with a brilliant plan for drawing his audience into the film by using several split screens that allow the audience to not only see Laura’s face, but also to see her phone’s screen as she texts Julia.
“When I’m texting someone and the conversation is intense, I get really nervous when I see those ellipses that show that they’re typing. You don’t know what they’re going to say next. I wanted people to feel like this is a situation they could find themselves in,” he says. “So I don’t want to just shoot a wide shot of someone texting. I want you to see what they’re texting. I want you to see how fast they’re texting. How anxious they are. It replicates what you do in life.”
The choice is effective and I found myself holding my breath as Laura approaches the van and Julia insists that there is no van where she is. I don’t want to give away too much more to avoid spoilers, but the whole scene plays beautifully with an exacting amount of tension. It’s really no wonder at all that the film was a finalist in the iHorror Awards this last season.
You could tell Smith really loves the form of the short film and we talked about his great love for anthology films that went hand in hand with his love of short stories like the ones in Stories to Tell in the Dark which he read when he was growing up.
“I enjoy giving people a taste of fear,” Smith said. “I’ve been doing short films for so long that it’s actually harder for me to do a feature. But if you give me three minutes, five minutes, or even ten minutes, it’s easier for me to tell my story. It has to be tight; the minutes have to be filled, but I love leaving that audience with that cliffhanger. Always leave them wanting more!”
The young director, who just signed on to create content for Crypt TV, has a whole host of short films in the works as well as a feature he hopes to begin shooting at the end of the year. If they’re as creative and fresh as “Van”, I’m sure we’re in for many more spectacular thrills and kills from Domonic Smith.
Check out “Van” below!