A very pretty young teenage girl named Elki (Savannah Foran McDaniel) sits towards the back of the school bus on her way home one sunny afternoon. Behind her sit fellow pupils Noelle (Jordan Small) and Bea (Tyallah Bullock) - blonde clone classmates of one another.
Noelle is shoving Elki in the shoulder repeatedly in an attempt to provoke a response. Despite her best attempts not to react, Elki is clearly becoming distressed. In minor retaliation, she jerks her shoulder to shoo Noelle away. This incenses the latter, prompting her to snatch the pencil her pal is chewing on and ram it into the back of Elki's neck with such force that it draws blood.
As Elki sits silently sobbing, the bullies arrive at their bus stop and vacate the vehicle - but not before one has hit Elki with her schoolbag, and the other has deposited a lump of moist chewing gum in her hair.
What a shit time poor Elki is having. I'd like to tell you her day is about to get better ... but that would be a lie.
See, after lifting a pair of scissors from her school bag and cutting the chewing gum out of her hair, she curls up on her bus seat sobbing in the foetal position. Alas, she falls asleep there and when she next awakes, she's reached the end of the line - it's evening, and she's alone on an empty bus at the depot.
I say she's alone - but not for long. Elki hammers on the bus horn to try and alert someone to the fact that she locked inside it. Unfortunately the only thing that heeds her call is ... well, it's not human. But whatever it is, it soon makes its way into the bus and doesn't appear to be all that friendly.
Armed with only a pair of scissors, how's young Elki going to get out of this predicament?
Australian filmmaker Drew Macdonald caused ripples back in 2017 with his formidable horror short CREEPER. HERE THERE BE MONSTERS - its title referencing a saying that would appear on old maps when considering largely unexplored terrains - is a most worthy follow-up which helps consolidate writer-director Macdonald's position as an up-and-coming prospect to keep our eyes on.
Clocking in at just 13 minutes and 58 seconds in length, this short wastes no time in time setting its scene. Elki clearly suffers on a daily basis from this form of bullying, and the manner in which this particular instance is presented really drums it home in a realistic, disturbing manner. Whether it's relevant that Elki is of mixed race, I don't know - there's no dialogue in HERE THERE BE MONSTERS (we get screams, sighs and muffled background speech) so everything is left to personal interpretation. Which works. But it's worth noting that everyone else on the school bus - who just observe impassively as the bullying unfurls - is white.
And while the theme of bullying is unsettling and prescient enough in itself, effective as it is in its portrayal here, the fact that it's potentially racially motivated makes it even more disheartening. It's a powerful set-up right from the off.
But this endeavour manages to be even more in such a short space of time too: a creature feature (Steve Boyle's FX are impressive), a revenge flick (I enjoyed the cyclic nature of violence inflicted), a religious metaphor of sorts. The melancholic opening, married with McDaniel's heartbreakingly sincere performance, undeniably lends weight to the latter half of this film's palpable tension.
Blessed with great performances from its young performers and gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Josh Zaini, HERE THERE BE MONSTERS can also lay claim to an understated but eerily effective score from Erin McKimm and some terrifically jarring sound design.
Tautly edited and stylishly shot, Macdonald favours strong storyline and atmospherics over jump-scares and overt gore. He's got a good thing going on here, and I can't wait for him to branch out into feature-film making. Here's hoping someone recognises his talent and stumps up the budget for that to happen sometime soon.
We were sent an online screener link to the film for review purposes.
It looks great in its original 2.35:1 ratio and appears to be shot on film. If it's not, then the post-production has done a great job. Colours, detail, depth and clarity are all top notch. English 2.0 audio is also without fault.
This film has played at over fifty film festivals to date and won numerous awards along the way, places it's been screened including the likes of BIFF, Sitges and Screamfest.
HERE THERE BE MONSTERS is currently streaming for free on the increasingly popular YouTube channel Alter, who are fast becoming the go-to place for watching modern horror shorts (which in itself may be an outlet for budding filmmakers out there looking to get that horror short of their own noticed?).
On the strength of this and the preceding CREEPER, Drew Macdonald really needs to be given the opportunity to spread his wings and thrill us with a feature-length horror film.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Drew Macdonald|