Agatha is a 2016 short film from director Timothy Vandenberg. The film made its debut at the Screamfest film festival in Los Angeles this past October, and will continue making the rounds on the film fest circuit with the next screening scheduled for Panic Fest in Kansas City, which takes place this January 27th -29th. Agatha will be available online later this year.
Set in the late 1800’s, Agatha tells the tale of a 7-year old orphan girl who, in an effort to provide herself with food and clothing, accepts an odd employment opportunity from an older woman of European descent. The woman offers to pay her a few coins in exchange for taking a plate of food to an unseen person living in the attic each evening. The task seems simple enough, but the girl is first given a set of strict rules. Just set the plate of food on the small table and leave. Don’t speak. Don’t take your time to look around. And most importantly, never EVER walk past the table.
The meal, and each subsequent “meal” afterwards, consists of a gnarled piece of raw meat. This, in itself, helps further set the immediate tone of apprehension and dread. This ominous feeling is then built upon by the unkempt appearance of the darkened room awaiting her at the top of the narrow stairwell. Only moonlight creeping through a window illuminates the room, revealing the huddled form under the sheets in the bed that dominates the majority of the room’s space.
The girl places the plate on the small bedside table and, as instructed, slowly backs out of the room. As she exits, an almost malnourished appearing hand reaches out and scoops up the plate with long, sharp nails. A leg has been shackled to one of the bedposts, the cuff cutting into the flesh of its ankle.
The girl returns each consecutive night, repeating the cycle of dropping off the food and retreating, although her curiosity is steadily mounting. The fear is present as well, but can’t compete with the need for sustenance or the desire for better clothing and shoes, and the girl continues her nightly occupation until an inevitable face-to-face encounter with the truth of her situation. Well, of course she does. You saw that coming, didn’t you?
Any marginally seasoned horror fan can read the plot description for Agatha and form a pretty solid idea of which direction it will head. What they may not be able to predict is the deception used to get them to that conclusion. In this regard, Vandenberg plays it like a veteran illusionist, using the images of a darkened attic scattered with mess and the idea of an unseen presence to distract the viewer from the real trick that is slowly playing out right in front of them the entire time. I’m certain that more than a handful of viewers will be compelled to watch the film again just to see what their eyes missed before.
The film is exceptionally well made and quite polished, giving the film an appearance that it cost more to produce than it actually did. Other than the introduction scene, the film features no dialog. This helps expound upon the already pre-established tone, heightening the sense of expectation. The young actress playing our “server” excels in conveying her sense of fear and curiosity through only eye movement and facial expression, a feat that a lot of older actors sometimes have trouble with. The strength of her performance and the thick spooky setting may even distract viewers from the fact that there is not a single drop of blood spilled the entire film.
Even in its brief 8 minute run time, Agatha manages to get more “right” than a lot of newer horror films 10 times its length. Highly recommended.