The Horror Above – A Review of Agatha
The orphan train comes daily, spilling hundreds of children onto the streets of Pennsylvania in the late 1800’s. Desperate and alone, the penniless 7 year old Sophie entrusts an older woman who hires her to bring food each night to someone living in her attic. There is just one rule: Do not pass the serving table….EVER. As time passes, the child’s curiosity grows bold; drawing her closer to discovering the truth behind the prisoner.
Agatha, a new short film written and directed by Timothy Vandenberg, is a tasty slice of Gothic horror served up in just under 10 minutes. An eerie atmosphere and mostly dialogue-free performance by Louise Ogle as the orphan Sophie transport viewers into this frightening snapshot of a nightmare. A sparse exchange and a couple of visual queues set up the plot as Sophie is hired by a woman (Penny Kohut) to serve food to an invalid residing in the attic – the titular Agatha (Jessica Farmer). The most we know about Agatha is that she suffers some form of facial deformity. She appears asleep whenever Sophie delivers the food to a serving table near the bed. The meals themselves appear to be uncooked organ meats. Sometimes Sophie finds empty plates awaiting her the next day, other times the food is untouched.
Every aspect of the short film is effective and expertly realized. The world Sophia and Agatha inhabit is fully established. Mysterious abound, none feel unintentionally ambiguous or unformed. Vandenberg teases viewers with the threat of imminent danger though the exact threat to Sophie isn’t clear until the trap is fully set around her. The young Louise Ogle remarkably carries the film after creating an immediate connection with viewers. She’s brave and curious, and it’s heartbreaking to see she’s forced to take on this job in order to get by the few coins she earns from the task. You don’t want something bad to happen to her, but it feels inevitable. To much success, the sense of dread that builds throughout the film lingers long after the conclusion. I felt haunted by this film, which is probably the most succinct and fitting review I can provide without giving away spoilers.
Keep an eye out for the film in the festival circuit while Vandenberg readies a feature length adaptation. I can’t wait to see more of Agatha in the future. Just don’t leave me alone with her.