It’s not uncommon for film directors who are just getting their start to make horror films, and it’s easy to see why. Horror is a popular genre with a built-in audience, and a clever enough premise is usually enough to get people to watch. It’s also sometimes a mistake.
Making an effective horror film takes skill, a knowledge of filmmaking craft and the wisdom to know that horror is more about imagery and atmosphere than scares.
Fortunately, filmmaker Marc Greene has the skill and knowledge to pull it off. His short Don’t Waste a Precious Minute is a creepy, creative and lean horror thriller. It could be used as a textbook example of how to do a lot with a little.
The American director Robert Rodriguez once said of his $7,000 feature debut El Mariachi, “Before I wrote the script, Carlos and I sat down and listed our assets. We had access to a school bus, two bars, a jail, motorcycle, a ranch and a pitbull. So I wrote the film around these elements.” Greene seems to have taken this lesson to heart.
His assets are a shipping container, two cages and some very creepy costumes. That’s a modest list, but he’s never constrained by it.
The appropriately minimalist plot concerns a man (Quinn Greene) and woman (Mallory James) caged inside the aforementioned shipping container deep in the woods by a mysterious abductor. Their captor is a demonic-looking figure, clad in a bizarre horned headdress and hanging rags. When the opportunity for escape arises, one of the captives is faced with a difficult choice.
Greene advances the story with little dialogue. He’s confident enough in his visual abilities to convey information without compromising his ambiance or images.
The two prisoners aren’t their captor’s first victims. A lesser filmmaker would explain this through expository dialogue. Greene does it in one quick shot of a pile of discarded shoes. He trusts his audience is smart enough to put two and two together.
Much of the credit for the ambiance also belongs to Greene’s crew. Cinematographer Michael Sanders uses black and white photography and an ever-shifting depth of field to emphasize the characters’ confusion and lack of information about their situation.
The villain’s costume, designed by RampantDesign, is eerie and organic but serves a broader function beyond scares. The creature’s design makes it visually obscured, such that it’s difficult to tell exactly what it is even when it’s right in front of us.
With each step, the villain’s keys to the shipping container and cages audibly jingle, turning it into a kind of twisted Santa Claus. All these elements intermingle with a wonderfully creepy score from composer James Musulak.
Don’t Waste a Precious Minute certainly lives up to its title. There’s not an ounce of fat to be trimmed from this picture, with every shot, line and sound effect accomplishing multiple things at once. It all builds to a bizarre conclusion that, like the rest of the film, wisely raises more questions than it answers.