This town is a beacon for monstrosities: a review of The Telling

This town is a beacon for monstrosities

a review of

words by Ellis Reed

The Telling is the work of Edinburgh-based auteur Stewart Hamilton, who wanted to capture the spirit — no pun intended — of retro TV shows like The Stone Tape and Children of the Stones.

In the UK, fans of a certain age have strong sense of nostalgia for these television shows of their formative years. The Guinness Book of Television described The Stone Tape as “one of the most frightening pieces of television ever made,” and many (including comedian Stewart Lee) felt the same about Children of the Stones. “For me,” Hamilton says, “these programmes capture a fantastic era in storytelling and an incredibly innovative period in television production and sound design.” His goal for The Telling was to make something, “amazing, spooky and beautiful,” in the same tradition, and the result is a roaring success.

The film opens as we join Sam (Clare Ross) on a taxi ride through the Scottish borders, back to her home town of Lauder. In the local library, she bumps into a childhood friend called Peter (Andy J. Noble) who she discovers never moved out of his late parents’ home. She wants to restart the friendship but Peter seems less keen. In fact, he’s positively alarmed when she turns up on his doorstep the next day.

From the start, Peter’s scenes are interspersed with flashbacks and apparent flash-forwards, and these do a great job of building tension. The Telling is described as “folk horror”, and it certainly has that vibe. If you enjoyed the mournful, semi-rural tone of In The Dark Half you’re going to appreciate The Telling – it has exactly the same elegiac feel. Lauder is one of those small rural towns that seem to have too much sky because there aren’t any big buildings.

In fact, we’re never far from the countryside, and Peter’s mind repeatedly wanders to the great outdoors. When he recognises Sam, he briefly recalls a childhood trek along the River Tweed, in the shadow of the Leaderfoot Viaduct. We know there’s something ominous about these flashbacks but we’re made to wait to find out what. The conclusion is haunting, when it comes, but pleasingly open.

Considering the £1,500 budget, The Telling is put together remarkably well. The acting is first-rate, and not just for a micro-budget feature. Ross and Noble are effortless in the roles, and it’s a tribute to their skill that we become so invested in the two characters—despite spending less than twenty minutes in their company.

As writer and director, Hamilton packs a huge amount of atmosphere and intrigue into the short runtime. The visuals are beautifully executed, with highlights including a drone shot of Lauder’s Market Place – filmed specially for the short, rather than Hamilton resorting to utilising stock footage – and magical views of the dusky Scottish borders, which at times could almost be mistaken for paintings. There are countless little touches of framing and editing that fuel the feelings of sadness and dread, and it can’t go without saying that the film benefits enormously from the haunting score, which was composed by Hamilton himself under his nom de scène of S.T.R.S.G.N.

The Telling is currently free to watch either via Vimeo or here on the Horrified website, and horror fans should certainly check it out. It’s a very small outlay of time for more than ample reward.

Stewart Hamilton is currently crowdfunding for his next project, The Beckoning, a short film inspired by cult supernatural dramas of the 70s and 80s which Horrified is delighted to be sponsoring. Check out The Beckoning’s IndieGoGo page here for more information and you can also follow The Beckoning’s Twitter page for updates on the project.

Picture of Ellis Reed

Ellis Reed

To pass the time during lockdown, I decided to write some English ghost stories, which you can read for free on my blog.

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