Jennifer Trudrung is an emerging talent in the world of indie screenwriters and her most recent work, a Stephen King Dollar Baby based on King’s short story Here There by Tygers, is hitting the festival circuit this year.
For those unaware, back in 1977 when King was beginning to really become a success, he decided to give back to his fellow creatives by creating the Dollar Baby or Dollar Deal program. Basically, aspiring filmmakers, theater producers, and student filmmakers can secure the rights to produce one of his short stories for a total of $1.
Trudrung chose wisely with Here There Be Tygers. It’s one of those short stories by King that never got the kind of recognition it deserved, despite being published in one of his more popular collections, Skeleton Crew. It had previously been published in 1968 in Ubris magazine.
In the original story, a young boy named Charlie is tormented by his teacher, Miss Bird. She mocks him, teases him, and in a pivotal moment, loudly corrects him in class for not asking to go to the restroom when he needs to go.
Young Charles goes to the bathroom, only to discover a tiger hiding in the shadows. To give more away would spoil the story and the short film, but its ending is chilling!
Trudrung, who has previously penned Unbearing, The Ebbing, and The Share, teams up with director Polly Schattel (Quiet River) to bring the short film to the screen while making some interesting changes.
First up, comes a gender flip. Changing Charles to Charlie creates adds an interesting dynamic to this tale that actually improves upon King’s original story. Not only does Charlie, played beautifully by Trudrung’s daughter Penny Munroe, need to go to the restroom but she has also started her period and there is blood on her skirt and leg as she stands up.
Miss Bird (Trudrung) uses the opportunity to call Charlie out further and she also, to an extent, allows another student, Susie (Selah Atwood) to mock Charlie calling her “dirty” and “nasty.”
This kind of shaming is nothing new in a world where the basic biological functions of a woman’s body are mocked and ridiculed, and while Schattel and Trudrung certainly use their platform to spotlight this behavior, they do so in a way that is both subtle and powerful by putting the words in the mouths of other women.
They also found an interesting device with which to portray the tiger, pointing to a more innately primal aspect of our own psyches in the use of an animal mask.
For her part, Munroe does an excellent job of portraying Charlie. Her fear and melancholy are both palpable as she emerges from her desk and makes her way to the bathroom as is her transformation after her experiences there.
Not only does she view her own circumstances differently, but she also sees her classmates in a brand new light.
Schattel and production designer Shane Meador filled the short film with little visual nods to Stephen King and William Blake which add an exciting layer for fans of either or both.
As a whole, Here There Be Tygers is an exciting adaptation of one of King’s less well-known stories, and one that, I think, will do quite well on the festival circuit. It is an atmospheric short film of which the entire cast and crew can and should be proud.
Look for it at horror and film festivals near you!