"Tangled in the web of dreams and reality, a homicide detective must fight against the evil spirit from an old Japanese urban legend to win the heart of the woman he loves." This is the log line for the new horror short film Beautiful which will be playing at the Culver City Film Festival in December. Co-Written and Directed by Petra Deeter, the story is an original take on the Japanese legend of Kuchisake-onna: the Slit Mouthed Woman. The character and mythology of this particular ghost has become more popular in recent years and Beautiful looks to show something new in the legend.
The story centers on a pair of police investigators, Sharon and Roger, who are looking into the murder of a young girl, another victim of the Slit Mouthed Woman. While investigating the crime scene they speak about similarities to the legend as well as the particular relationship that they have with one another. Roger is enamored with Sharon. Sharon sees him as nothing but a friend and coworker. That night, as Roger is lying on his couch listening to the news discuss how these gruesome murders are continuing to happen in the area, Sharon is visited by the malevolent spirit.
At only nine minutes and some change, Beautiful has a lot of story to unpack and a lot of characterization to develop. As I've said before in other reviews telling any story in short form, on film or on paper, is a Herculean task and getting that story across to audiences the way you want it is a challenge to say the least. People are often more critical of short form horror films because there is so much story to show and not a lot of time to show it in and it can be frustrating to an audience to have so much alluded to but never explored. This is the case with Beautiful.
As a viewer I felt as if there was so much happening, too much really, and I wanted to see more. I wanted more exploration of the relationship between Roger and Sharon, of their characters and their individual development. For the ghost and the murders, I wanted to know how the ancient Japanese legend had arrived in this otherwise quiet town and began a spree of murders and apparent possessions of people. There was a dream sequence that felt so relevant to it all and I'm sure had the film been just a little longer so many of these open ended questions would have been answered.
I hate reviewing films over the computer. I don't feel like the sound or cinematography is ever quite what the director intended and judging it from a laptop screen as opposed to an actual theater screen is a handicap to any film. That said, I've got to work with what I have. The audio itself felt overdubbed the way and old Godzilla film would have done it in the 60's. It's very much outside of the ambient noise and clashes against almost every scene. I'm also super critical any time I see a cop on film because I grew up in a police family and spent thirteen years working in law enforcement. I'll leave those gripes alone because I understand creative license requires the suspension of disbelief and, simply put, some things just look better on film. The makeup effects were extremely simple and, again, had I seen this on a larger screen the way it was intended I'm sure I would have appreciated them much better. From my laptop, the Slit Mouthed Woman looked more like a model in a bad joker cosplay than an ancient Japanese spirit seeking out her vengeance on the hapless and innocent.
The cinematography, the angles and choices of shots made were wonderful. The dream sequence itself was very simple and stunning with a deep black background contrasted by a sheer red scarf, bare flesh, and the trademark grin of the demon. There are a few scenes with Sharon and the Slit Mouthed Woman towards the end which are fantastically shot and capture a truly creepy vibe that the legend it known for.
Overall Beautiful is a unique story that needs a longer run time. There's simply too much going on, too much character and narrative development to leave it as a nine minute short. My hope is that it does well on the festival circuit as we head into the new year and this encourages an independent production company to pick it up and make it into a feature. An hour and a half would provide an appropriate amount of time to unpack the characters, the story, and the fear that lies within this unique short.