There’s nothing as seemingly innocuous as a balloon at a child’s birthday party. A bright sack of floating air never fails to entertain children and adults alike. But what happens when all the joy and wonderment of something so simple is stripped away, replaced by something wholly terrifying and beyond belief? What happens when the innocence is stripped from that rainbow tapestry of of childhood delights and replaced by a moment of abject fear. That’s exactly what writer/director Mitchell Slan wants to know in his suspenseful short film Balloon.
Penny suffers from globophobia, the fear of balloons. Sitting in her therapist’s office she explains that it seems completely irrational and ridiculous until she elaborates on her underlying issues. Flashback ten years to little Penny, pigtails in her golden hair, her white stress with a rainbow splotch pattern across the front and a cone shaped party had on her head. Today is her birthday and she can’t wait for everyone to arrive. But little girls are curious and, when she sees the back gate hanging open, she wanders off to investigate. This is where she meets Poppy the Clown, a deranged child murderer who abducts her and takes her back to his lair. In a room full of balloons, Poppy wants to play a game. Get three questions right, and he’ll let her go. Get them wrong? Pop! It’s a psychological torment that ends with a police raid and a gunshot that sprays Poppy in shades of red across Penny’s face. Now, a decade later, Penny is struggling to overcome her fear of balloons brought on by the trauma of Poppy the Clown and the growing cult of personality that has formed around his legacy. Eventually, her therapy takes a turn for the worse as the killer inside her awakens.
If I had one complaint about Balloon, it was that I wanted more. The story is good, the performances genuine, and the idea behind it absolutely terrifying. The story is a psychological horror about a young woman reliving a trauma that no child should have to experience. Combined with some unorthodox therapy from a psychiatrist who may actually be a serial killer groupie and you’ve got the makings for a complete bloodbath. I was immediately hooked, something that doesn’t normally happen to me with these kinds of movies. Give a me a creature feature and I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting from the word “go.” But a psychological horror/drama? I have to be in the right mindset for that which surprised me when it just sucked me right in.
The story was incredibly well written. It used elements of last year’s clownpocalypse to illustrate the truly sick obsession we have with serial killers. A documentary mentioned in the film discusses the life of Poppy the Clown, from his childhood of neglect in an orphanage and fear of clowns to the begin of his bloody career as he murdered other orphans and a birthday clown while still a child. All the while Penny is struggling to get through the anniversary, seemingly forgotten by everyone as being the final victim and sole survivor of the deranged murderer. This may actually be the most horrifying aspect of the film for the sheer reality of it. How many “famous” serial killers can you list off the top of your heads? What sort of stats can you tell me? Now, try to remember the victims’ names and anything remarkable about them other than they died at the hands of a psychopath? This is the sort of hell that Penny lives with, remembering each night her near death experience at the hands of a psychotic clown while all the world seemingly celebrates him in the form of documentaries and performance art tributes.
The performances by Erinn Kiniry (Penny), Angelique Wiesner (Little Penny), Flood Reed (Poppy), and Cr Mohrhardt (the Therapist) are all amazing. The transitioning between the past and the present is seamless. The actual instances of violence are done in cut aways like you’d expect from a classic horror film, leaving the more gruesome carnage to the imagination. There’s still plenty of blood as well as some freaky, terrifying clowns. There’s also a motif that recurs with the characters, a rainbow colored paint splatter across Penny’s clothes, Poppy’s gloves, and one that stands in stark contrast to the otherwise darkened atmosphere of the film. Balloon’s score is also unique as it was created using noises produced from balloons.
Balloon has been making the rounds in the film festival circuit, appearing in five festivals within its first month of release. A feature length script is being drafted and I can only hope we’ll be seeing much more of Penny and Poppy the Clown in the not too distant future. If you’re looking for updates or information on where you Balloon will be appearing next, follow the project online through social media.