Scottish director Andy Stewart has been gathering a lot of attention in the independent horror scene since the release of his début film Dysmorphia. Filmed on a budget of just £160, the film was described by The Twisted Twins, Jen & Sylvia Soska (American Mary, Dead Hooker In A Trunk) as “Quite possibly the greatest short film we have ever seen”. Anticipation has therefore been extremely high for the follow up, the second entry in a planned body horror trilogy from Andy’s film company – Shining Example Films.
Body horror, horror concerning disease, decay or mutilation of the body has a long history, tracable back to 1932’s controversial Freaks. David Cronenberg perhaps most notably solidified the concept as a separate sub-genre, which has been employed to convey societal fears including HIV, cancer, and scientific and medical ethics. In the case of Stewart’s latest film Split, an intimate examination of feelings of guilt, abandonment and grief are explored through stomach turning horror. Exploring the dynamics of a dysfunctional, broken down relationship, the film presents the shocking bodily corruption of a man who cannot cope without his partner.
It is impossible to look at a work of body horror without focus on the effects. There is an element of homage to The Fly (1986), yet the makeup remains fresh and genuinely grotesque in it’s own right. Without giving away too much, there’s a slow build to the gore ‘money shots’ which works perfectly in constructing a sense of dread. Good horror, in particular body horror should provide a sense of ‘I don’t want to look, but I can’t look away’, and it’s fair to say that Stewart delivers on this remit. The effects are realistic, expertly timed, and show just enough to turn the stomach of a seasoned horror fan – without falling into the trap of gore for gore’s sake.
In contrast to the most celebrated “gore-fests”, Split is a very quiet film. For much of the film there is zero dialogue, and conversations occur in flashbacks. It creates a highly effective sense of isolation, in keeping with the overarching themes of the story. The lack of speech also makes the grunts, groans and bodily noises stand out, with powerful and often disgusting effect.
At seventeen minutes, Split is well worth seeing if you can catch it on the festival circuit. A powerful, emotional, and gruesome short, and we’ll be keeping an eye on Andy’s future work.