Loop: A horror video short review
Directed by Mali Elfman
The Story: A young woman wakes up, hears a noise, goes into the basement to investigate. So what? Let me introduce you to the concept of “exceeding expectations”.
The Rundown: I want to talk about tropes for a minute. A trope is a signature event, device, character, subject matter that a media creator will use with consistency in their work. Horror in general has several tropes that appear in most of its media (short story, literature, film, mean practical jokes). I would like to talk about three of them, that while not confined to the short film format, are often present.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
Perhaps the most prevalent trope in horror short film is someone waking up in their bed, pulled out of sleep by a noise. The framing is always horizontal with the lead laying on their side so there can be as little wasted movement as possible between the sound and the opening of our assumed protagonist’s eyes. Sometimes you’ll get someone who stirs a little then wakes up.
The second trope is that moment when the protagonist goes into a dark place to investigate a disturbance. This trope is the bread and butter of horror. This is usually not a good idea. Basically it’s NEVER a good idea. If you suspect there’s an ax murderer in the basement, it’s best practice to not go into said basement. Call me old fashioned.
The third trope is the reveal. It’s the end of the roller coaster, the reason we paid to get in, the end of a five minute video. There are many kind of reveals: There’s the practical effect reveal of a monster either of our making or not of our world. There is the twist reveal where everything we know is turned upside down (or up, depending). There is also the comedic ending which deflates the previous events of the film (check out Fred Walton’s ‘April Fool’s Day ’86’ to see one of the few times I think this sort of reveal worked well). The trope is the event itself.
Are we all caught up? Good. Now let’s talk about Loop.
As I’m writing this article, I feel like I’m having to fight the temptation to be hyperbolic. Screw it.
Diva Zappa, our lead and only character is… there’s just a certain je ne sais quoi about her. She doesn’t radiate like the lead in a 2010s horror film and that is perfect and something I wish we saw more of in film casting despite the current “wisdom” of the industry. Everything about her is interesting (her vocals are not at scream queen levels which may be her only flaw). The gait of her walk, the flow of her hair, the scratches on her back underneath the line of her shirt and overalls give the picture of a fleshed out character (I like to imagine this is the kind of person that gets excited when she finds a dress that has pockets sewn in). It’s the earnestness in her face that is the centerpiece of the film’s 105 second long opening shot. And this shot is beautiful. I wish more horror films used the color white like Loop does.
So let’s talk about one of the choices that director Mali Elfman and co-cinematographers Jordan Long and Matt Glass made: the descent down the staircase. The seamless marriage of production design and camera work makes what is the most standard of horror movie activities (walking down stairs) into something that feels fresh, almost a subversion of the expectation itself. Frankly, you can say that about everything in this short. The color correction by Matt Glass deserves special attention. This is not boilerplate filmmaking.
Mali Elfman wrote a very personal story and it’s clear that she went into this with a vision that follows very closely in the tradition of the Stanley Kubrick mantra, “The question is always more interesting than the answer.” The partnership she forged with Zappa produces an undeniably feminine feel to the act of waking up, almost as if being born, on lamb skin, and then descending into an ever blackening and growing pit of the unknown.
What about the ending? Mali, if you’re reading this: nice. This particular reveal is made in the edit so I don’t want to say too much about it because, dear reader, I think you deserve to have something think about. Sometimes we can have nice things. Now, regarding the technical aspect of the ending, I will say that there are a million ways the piss could have been taken out of it. I’ll even bet that you figured out the end 15 seconds before the reveal, but the way it unfolds, the precise cuts (shout out to editors Boman Modine and Stephen Boyer) sell that damn-near-minor-masterpiece moment.
Clearly worth a view and more on the brainy side, Loop leaves me wanting more. Maybe not a continuation of this story, but I feel like Mali Elfman has a lot to say and, if this is a just world, she’ll be given her chance to shout anything she wants.
What Movie Should I Watch After This? “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Lost” S6E17/18: ‘The End,’ “Session 9”
Writer. Wrestling mark. Dog parent. Halloween enthusiast. Always wondering about the me on Earth 616 and what he/she/it’s up to. Currently residing in Los Angeles.