Alfred J. Hemlock
When Emily's boyfriend abandons her in the night, her only way home is through an alleyway where she is terrorised by the mysterious entity Alfred J Hemlock.
Alfred J. Hemlock is an Australian short film which I’ve already seen a couple of times (Screamfest, Filmquest) and chances are – I’ll see it again.
It’s whipping its way across the festival circuit, with new Official Selections coming down the wire almost daily.
And it’s easy to see why. It’s perfectly acted, edited with an eye for pace and even has a convincing and empowering journey which the film’s lead will take in the span of a quick 14 minute short film.
Emily (Renaye Loryman) has just had a terrible night. Her douche-bag boyfriend Guy (Christian Charisiou) has just forcefully dumped her off on some random side street, adjacent to a dirty (and perhaps unsafe) alleyway somewhere in the city. It’s late at night, and he accuses her of flirting with his friends, whom she’s apparently just met. As he speeds away, Emily is left sobbing on the ground, where she mutters, “I hate my life. I wish I were dead.” After a moment or two, she picks herself up and moves into the shadowy alley, where she will meet one Alfred J. Hemlock (Tristan McKinnon) – some sort of supernatural spectre who is willing to help Emily out with her wish, “I wish I were dead”.
The two central performances are the key to the film’s success.
Loryman is one helluva maestro with the waterworks, and as the film goes on, and Emily’s sad desperation comes to a head – Loryman’s given the chance to emote in so many different ways – fear, anger, resignation and finally, strength. There’s a lot going on for Emily in such a short amount of time, but Loryman nails every single moment.
As the mysterious Hemlock, McKinnon must have done some serious research into the many credits of Johnny Depp (mostly his work with Tim Burton), for you’ll see flashes of Sleepy Hollow’s Ichabod Crane, some bits of Willy Wonka and even a few pieces of the non-Burton Depp character – Captain Jack Sparrow — in the bizarre Hemlock. I point this out because – despite my extreme enjoyment of McKinnon’s work (it’s a wonderfully physical and oddball performance), I couldn’t break away from the automatic similarities to Depp’s work which come to mind (both in character design and in McKinnon’s choices). It’s nothing detrimental to the performance as a whole, just a little bit – shall we say – distracting? But again – not enough to detract from all of the lovely things offered up by the film and McKinnon’s work.
Visually, the film is a total treat. Awesome visual effects (including some old school stop-motion) team up with great make-up for Hemlock the character and some wonderful lighting and editing. There’s a lot going on in these 14 minutes – and the film is certainly never dull (either in pacing or style).
The score was also perfectly suited to this fantastical little world and the sound work (lots of echoes and distant noises) should be called out as a great success as well.
Chances are if you close your eyes and randomly pick out a fun genre festival near you – that you’ll get a chance to see this delightfully kooky gem – with two strong lead performances and a “raise your hands and cheer” ending.
And yes – in these few moments of fantasy, you’ll get a fully-formed character journey/arc for the lead character. Now that’s good writing.
Alfred J. Hemlock is highly recommended.