A sleep-deprived clerk working at a 24-hour convenience store is struggling to stay awake during his night shift. In his wooziness, he sees a black-clad figure of a man appear on his security camera… but he isn’t in the same place in the store.
He wonders if he’s seeing things in the middle of this long night, but as he begins to investigate, things aren’t what they seem — much to his potential peril.
Directing team Matt Black and Ryan Polly — who form part of the Texas-based filmmaking collective Maker Table — have crafted a masterful, suspenseful psychological horror film about the gulf between perception and reality.
Its runtime is a compact 8 minutes, but it packs a feature’s worth of intensity within that time. What it accomplishes within the short timeframe and the compressed narrative scope is a start-to-finish cinematic rollercoaster of tension and terror. It easily takes its place alongside classic psychological horror films like “Repulsion,” where a possibly compromised protagonist conjures an inner vision that might dangerously bleed into reality.
Instead of swerving into surreal territory, the short explores our contemporary landscape of screens, and the ways they purport to reflect objective reality, yet very often do not. The narrative then takes this growing fracture between the virtual worls of the screen and the physical realm of reality, and exploits it for a chillingly scary experience.
Like many horror films, the short leans on impeccable craftsmanship and dynamic camerawork, which expertly directs viewers’ attention to the moments and details that reflect the clerk’s compromised state of mind and raises the question of whether what he is seeing is truly “real” or just a figment of his sleep-starved imagination.
Expert editing tightly controls the pacing and unraveling of the tension growing as the clerk begins to wonder if he is in danger of attack. The film knows how to tease at a definitive meaning and answer, but also when to pull back and let uncertainty fill the gap, to often deliciously frightening effect.
“Monitor” is short but highly effective, and its evocation of terror doesn’t lean on gore or disgust but the flickering, fragile nature of certainty, especially in a world where reflections of reality are often doctored, interpolated or altered. Smart, taut, tense and chilling, it should appeal to fans of intelligent, cerebral horror — or anyone who’s ever questioned if what they see on the screen is real.