Andrew Screen reviews 2021's BABYTHUMP, the second horror short film from editor-turned-director, Ian Killick...
The second short film from writer and director Ian Killick, Babythump, will be released on the festival circuit later this year. Shot over two days at the height of the second wave of Covid the film is a dark, sardonic horror which quickly establishes its own world and logic with the first scene.
A couple, Donny and Marie (Osmond?), are in bed and are woken by sounds from another part of their house. It is a familiar scenario for anyone who has young children, but the dialogue between the couple demonstrates that there is something not quite right. In fact, it’s distinctly off-kilter! After all, they don’t own a cat and they don’t have a baby… or do they?
After investigating the source of the sounds the couple comes to realise they will have to share their home and life with something else. However, they are not quite sure what it is so decide to check with the delightfully named Doctor Hoofenhoffer (Brigid Lohrey) to confirm. The doctor, who seems to have an issue with proper and common nouns, clarifies that Donny and Marie do indeed have a baby. She advises that feeding it will stop the noise, but this may only be temporary. She also enlightens the couple that caring for a child is quite a long commitment, something they are not prepared for. After all, they like to watch TV and it might be a distraction. So Doctor Hoofenhoffer offers a macabre solution…
The deadpan humour and bizarre plot of Babythump shares DNA with the work of Roy Andersson, Chris Morris and Yorgis Lanthimos and is complemented by a scuzzed-out retro aesthetic to the imagery and grading. This could easily pass for a forgotten short from the 1970s, played before a showing of Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) or Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977). It could also be seen as a dry commentary on a certain type of parent, ones we have perhaps all encountered, who are not prepared for the full force of parenting.
The film ends with marvellous use of Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 underpinning a final sustained shot of the couple. Actors Kathryn O’Reilly and Derek Elwood convey the slow dawning of what they have done with great skill and no dialogue. Babythump feels like it has fallen through time from fifty years ago to offer a bittersweet barbed slice of Pinteresque horror.
Ian Killick noted that the film was ‘influenced to a large extent by the short stories of Saki and Robert Aikman, the uncanny and repressed side of British life where there is always a grim sense of the absurd; unspoken dread of something that shouldn’t be discussed. The film was written fairly quickly in the first instance but went through a number of dialogue re-writes.’
The look of the short was also important to the success of the finished production. ‘It was shot on film. A rather nerve-wracking process, but the actors said it helped them with their performances. The aim was to create a psychological filter for the audience due to the subject matter. In post, we were aiming for a sort of washed-out Pete Walker look, a film that had been thrown in a bin and had gone a bit rotten.’
Babythump had to overcome challenges created by the Covid crisis during production. ‘We had to find a large house in which all departments of the crew could operate independently. The location was a six-storey townhouse in Shoreditch which had some lovely wooden textures. Being an old townhouse meant many rooms of a small nature, necessitating some changes in the shot-list, but the cramped nature worked well in the end and added to the film’s tone.’
Post-production involved Ian editing his own work which he was initially hesitant of doing. ‘It is sometimes not always recommended that a director edit their own material, but I trained as an editor prior to moving into directing so am able to keep in mind the emotional temperature of the scenes and dissociate myself from what happened during the shoot. I should also add that my ability to edit first and foremost greatly helped my ability to make visual choices quickly on set, leaving plenty of time to work with the actors.’
Babythump will be touring the festival circuit later this year and if you get the chance to catch it will certainly be worth the time and effort.