After an argument, Emily’s boyfriend kicks her out of the car in the middle of the night with a series of insults, leaving her stranded with only the bus to take her home.
To get to the stop, she must walk through an alleyway, where she encounters a mysterious supernatural spirit named Alfred J. Hemlock — who makes it the longest and scariest walk of Emily’s life.
This horror short — created by writer/director Edward Lyons and producer/co-writer Melissa Lyons — has plenty of chills and thrills, constructed through uniformly excellent craft, with deft camerawork, beautifully lurid lighting and effective performances. Like many films of the genre, it’s a showcase of craftsmanship, and luxuriates in building up tension and paying it off with great style and panache.
Its set-up is classic horror territory — a girl alone in an alleyway — but it executes its mission in a way that’s memorable and distinctive. The artistry has an exuberance and sense of brio, with a carnivalesque sense of theatricality and eccentricity that brings to mind the best work of Tim Burton, whether through its creature effects or its dark yet jaunty visual sensibility. This is a film that isn’t afraid to really “go for it,” and with its flights of surreal fancy and baroque touches of horror — not to mention its brash humor — creates a genuine sense of fun and entertainment alongside its suspense.
The film remains grounded, however, in the emotional reality of its lead character. The writing excellently delineates Emily as a fully fleshed-out character and Alfred as a worthy nemesis, and the ensemble cast brings them to life with great skill, creating a sense of emotional intimacy and specificity that allows audiences to truly experience the story alongside them.
The two lead actors, Renaye Loryman and Tristan McKinnon, play well off one another, even though their performance styles are quite different. Alfred has the charisma and sense of danger evoked by rock stars and keenly relishes his power, while Emily is played with a naturalistic attunement to the emotional dilemma she’s experiencing, each beat building up to a great and highly satisfying turning point for the character. Through Emily’s battle with Alfred, she comes to realize that she isn’t powerless and victimized as she thinks, and her ability to grow adds an emotional arc to an already wildly enjoyable ride.
“Alfred J. Hemlock” is that rare distinctive horror short that not just pulls audiences in with its keen sense of storytelling, but also with vivid, memorable characters that feel real and relatable. Viewers will not only find pleasure in the film’s sense of almost old-fashioned entertainment, but also enjoy their time in Alfred’s funhouse of fright — and maybe even come out of it like Emily with renewed purpose and strength.