The Front Door
Ellis Reed reviews The Front Door, a darkly humorous short by Andrew Rutter...
For the last couple of years, Midlands native Andrew Rutter has been making a name for himself on the UK horror scene, serving up some darkly comic shorts at various festivals.
Prior to 2017, he’d been shooting documentaries and music videos, culminating in his award-winning work on a song by Ultrasound (‘Kon-Tiki’). That last project was, by all accounts, a very gruelling one. ‘I really enjoyed making the music videos,’ he told us. ‘Especially Kon-Tiki, even though it nearly drove me insane… However I got to a point where I wasn’t able to tell the stories I wanted to be telling and they sort of became a limitation instead. You get full creative ownership of sorts with a short film, whereas a music video is only really 50% yours and depending on the relationship you have with the band/label you could have even less. So I moved in to short films as I felt that was the only way I was going to truly develop my voice.’
With that in mind, after Kon-Tiki, he started making his own absurdist shorts, inspired by the likes of Jam, The Comic Strip Presents, and the animations of David Firth. Of these, Peter the Penguin (UK, Andrew Rutter, 2020) enjoyed a strong festival run, picking up Best Short Film at Grimmfest 2020. His earlier film The Front Door (UK, Andrew Rutter, 2018) recently became available to watch online, so we took the opportunity to review it.
The short begins with a couple lying in bed, wondering whether Steven (Brad Ash) remembered to lock the front door. When he goes to check, it turns out he didn’t – and someone has taken this as an invitation.
The film is six minutes long and effectively works as an extended sketch. Satanic cult leader Jacob (Chris Butler) has decided to conduct a human sacrifice in Steven’s living room, using a victim he found through Gumtree. The cultists have brought their own accoutrements, including a blood-red pentagram and lots of candles. Steven is perplexed by the scene that greets him, but Jacob is determined to style it out. ‘You did leave the front door open,’ he argues.
The Front Door is both funny and well made. For me, it raised several chuckles and one big laugh at the very end, which is a good haul for six minutes. In addition to the humour, it’s got effective sound design for the climax and strong visuals throughout. The cultists really do look satanic; there’s a nice shot where, as Jacob talks, his head is framed by the blood-red pentagram.
Despite the oddball premise, the film is very relatable. We all know what it’s like to drag ourselves out of bed, to check we remembered to do something that’s so routine we might have done it on autopilot. We also understand the social awkwardness of being confronted with unreasonable behaviour, and how wrong-footing it can be when the culprit is all smiles. In terms of acting, the bulk of the short is the absurdist back-and-forth between the two leads, but the other actors bring plenty of value. Notable among them are Daniel Lipton, who does a sweaty turn as the human sacrifice, and Joanna Caldwell, who bookends the film with a small but amusing role as the wife.
All in all, it’s a great example of a light horror short that would play very well before a longer feature or as part of an anthology. Unsurprisingly, it appeared at several festivals between 2018 and 2020 and picked up at least three awards.
Peter the Penguin and The Front Door were originally going to be part of an online anthology called The Vivid Kingdom, but world events disrupted those plans. ‘The Vivid Kingdom anthology is no longer happening due mainly to the pandemic,’ Andrew explained. ‘I was due to make the final film before everything turned upside down and then too much time had passed and I just wanted to start releasing the films.’
As with all of us, he’s had the resulting worldwide crisis to live through. ‘Pandemic life has been very up and down for me. Most of my discoveries have been in self care and acceptance, trying to release as much pressure from myself as possible regarding work. As a freelance filmmaker it can get so difficult mentally that you have to start setting some perimeters and do what works for you, otherwise you get burnt out and depressed.’
The good news for horror fans is that he still has some stuff up his sleeve for us. ‘During this time I’ve been able to reflect, remind myself what drives me and what I love… and then fell in to an obsession with collecting old horror VHS as a result! I’ve been collecting video nasties and ex rental horrors on VHS the past few months, they’ve been a great source of inspiration weirdly and remind me of my childhood car boot sale searches in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I’m kind of working on a new project involving these tapes… Going forward I’m working on a new short horror which leaves the comedy behind this time. It’s another opportunity to test my self and see if I can make something effective that gets under your skin!’
We’re certainly looking forward to it. In the meantime, you can enjoy The Front Door in our video section. Also keep an eye out for Peter the Penguin, which will premiere online with ALTER on 12th October 2021.