review by AARON ALLEN
Written and Directed by Torin Langen
Starring Erin Stuart, Rebeca Mackinnon, Eric Repke
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
- Exodus 22:18
In Torin Langen's Malleus Maleficarum, the follow up / companion piece to his last short Fondue, Langen has perfected the art of silent dread. Malleus Maleficarum’s completely dialogue-free narrative is so terrifyingly bewitching that I have to assume it can only be the product of some kind of black movie magic.
Malleus Maleficarum opens with a woman and two young people preparing for some Fall festivities. They don't appear to be gearing up for Halloween, however, although the time of year is certainly right; crisp yellow and orange leaves crunch underfoot, pumpkins are out, and you can almost smell the crisp October air wafting through the skeleton-finger limbs of the trees. No, not Halloween. Something else equally rooted in superstitions and the rites of the winter solstice. They are preparing for something called “Exodus.” A creeping sense of dread begins to creep into the proceedings as the trio take a trip to the local grocer / convenience store. Instead of picking up a Jack O’ Lantern, they are ushered into a silent room containing men and women slumped, sullen, and cowering in the corners with white hoods pulled over their heads.
You’re going to have to see it for yourself to find out where it goes from there. But here’s a hint: it’s riveting. The wordless performances by Erin Stuart, Rebeca Mackinnon and Eric Repke as the trio are so mysterious yet intriguing you won't want to look away. Devoid of exposition, director Torin Langen lets the camera tell the story, ushering you into scenes that are at once both quite familiar yet increasingly tinged with the queer and the strange. In this nightmarish narrative, the true nature of what’s going on is never explicitly laid out for the viewer, but observant audiences will have no trouble discerning the age-old themes at play.
In no uncertain terms, Malleus Maleficarum marks a distinct point of maturation in Torin Langen’s development as a filmmaker. While Langen’s prior shorts have all shown exceptional talent, he has in the past relied heavily on retro homage or heavily stylized music and visuals. Malleus Maleficarum, by comparison, is a much more straight-forward and no-nonsense demonstration of Langen’s deft skills with a camera, narrative, and character. If Malleus Maleficarum were a knife, it would cut deep and cut clean. Few people can tell a truly engaging story without character dialogue yet still manage to keep it tight, tense, and tantalizing, but Torin Langen has cracked the code.
Malleus Maleficarum is a great sample of suspenseful short film sorcery. I can’t recommend it enough. See it for yourself August 15th in Montreal where it will screen as an official selection of the MASCARA & POPCORN Film Festival.