Two day laborers, Tomas and Leo, are picked up for a job: they’re being paid to transport a box into the woods and bury it. Other than that, they don’t know much more about their work, or their mysteriously tight-lipped — and armed — employer.
But eventually their curiosity — and their growing fear — prove irresistible. And when they open the box, what comes out is surprising, alluring — and incredibly dangerous.
Writer-director Patrick Mason’s short straddles the horror and thriller genres, but what it traffics in is really the element of suspense, as well as the dangerous appeal of the unknown and the secret.
Using atmospheric cinematography, an ominous score and subtle but effective performances, the film expertly builds up tension, first around the situation of doing paid work for someone they don’t know, and with seemingly questionable motives.
The central question, of course, is exactly what is in the box, and the film masterfully constructs the mystery of its contents. Little details — a heavy silence, a shot of an item on the car dashboard, an unusual noise in the sound design — offer clues for astute viewers.
But the film’s real pleasures are found in the excellent execution of its craft. Its small details are judiciously parsed out by well-paced editing, which strike a great balance between taking time to notice the tiny moments of disquiet and curiosity of the labourers with keeping the suspense building. The film knows exactly where to put the camera to maximize both information and surprise, making each frame and shot count.
The result is a masterfully crafted and indelibly frightening horror short that offers a new take on Pandora’s box, and creates its suspense with intelligence and great skill. “Ayuda” may not have convoluted twists and turns, but it illustrates how one of humanity’s great assets — our need to know and push at the boundaries of our knowledge — is also our biggest weakness, often with disastrous consequence.