Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to both, lead actress Bel Delia (The Tunnel) and Director, Emma Bell (Final Destination 5 and Frozen) for allowing me access to an online screener of their 14 minute Horror/Thriller short, “Scratch”, Written by Helen Shang. Scratch is Bell’s directorial debut and it’s set in the 1950’s. Lily, a repressed and lonely housewife (played by Delia), suspects her husband, John (Camron Robertson) of adultery. Left to her own devices, she makes a horrifying discovery about the noises coming from the walls inside her home. The film also stars Kate Avery, Alexandra Bard and Jennifer van Heeckeren. I happened to luck upon Scratch when I saw a review for it at DreadCentral.com and I thought it sounded promising. Some readers will remember Emma Bell from her time spent on TV’s “The Walking Dead” and “Dallas” but this particular reviewer saw her film work before those and I’ve been a fan of hers ever since. Her roles in Adam Green’s underrated, “Frozen”, along with the fifth installment of “The Final Destination” franchise, helped her establish a career in acting. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw her name under the Director’s credit of this little short. It’s quite common for actors/actresses to transition into other parts of the production but not usually someone Bell’s age (she’s only six months younger than me). I, myself recently wrote and produced my first short film and regardless of the wider response, it’s an accomplishment in of itself, so congratulations go to Emma.
It was the circa, 1950’s setting of Scratch that initially appealed to me and got me intrigued in the film. There’s so much you can do stylistically when it comes to a period piece, especially one set in the 50’s. Think of iconic TV shows like “I Love Lucy” and “Lassie”, it was a great time in history and the old conventions surrounding the husband and wife relationship, now make for an interesting psychological deconstruction because we’ve come so far in modern society. The production value is fantastic in this one. Scratch opens with a soft and slick color palette, utilizing a series of gorgeous shot choices that focus on Lily’s blouse and earrings, as she prepares to play her fixed role of housewife. The framing is skillfully executed and all the extreme close-ups play to the beats of Geoff Saville’s edit. Bell and her art department are to be lauded for what they’ve comprised on-screen. The attention to detail in the set design is remarkable. The costumes look authentic, as do the hair and makeup. Women wore basic blouses, men wore suspenders, dress pants and stylish hats. If it wasn’t for the advanced technology I’ve come to know with the turn of the century, I would’ve loved to have existed in that time period because everyone had a sense of class about them. The kitchen, the wallpaper, the record player and even the carpet, all manage to place you right in the intended environment, you’ve gotta love that.
The audio levels are consistent and the sound effects are sharp and well-timed. The score is another stand out feature in Scratch. It begins with a gentle, piano based ballad like something from “American Psycho” (another period piece) and ends up changing to some beautifully haunting violin pieces about half way through. At its core, Scratch is about a woman’s descent into madness caused by her own psychosis. It was over five years ago that I saw lead actress, Bel Delia in the Australian found footage film, “The Tunnel”. It drummed up a few genuine scares but ultimately it wasn’t a great film. Delia was one of the better things to come out of it but I hadn’t seen her in anything since. It suddenly dawned on me, after I got her email, that she was also in Michael Budd’s, “Love Of My Life”, another independent Horror/Thriller filmed here in Australia. Bel has limited dialogue in Scratch but still portrays her characters emotional weight really well. I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing more work from her in the future.
The only complaint I have with Scratch is its addition of a sequence straight from Wes Craven’s, “A Nightmare On Elm St”. Whether it be the intention of the writer or not, a figure pushing its way through the walls is always going to be compared against that classic film.
Scratch is an outstanding short film that will surely launch a career for Emma Bell behind the camera (if she so chooses). I love the 50’s time period and the authenticity with which its presented. The production value is superb and the color grading accurate for the era. The camera work and shot choices are flawless and the attention to detail in wardrobe and set design are second to none. The audio levels and score are a couple of other features that really stand out in Scratch. Delia and the remainder of the cast all perform well and the narrative goes in an unforeseen and entertaining direction. If you’ve only got room in your schedule for one short film this year, make it Emma Bell’s 14 minute, “Scratch” because they don’t come much better than this!
My rating for “Scratch” is 9/10