Everyone grieves in their own way. Some take solace from family, others throw themselves into their work. Some, in the case of The Rickety Man (2021), make friends with malevolent forest spirits and terrorise their fathers.
Sadness is never far off
The Rickety Man is a folk horror short film directed by Cameron Gallagher and written by Jeremiah Lewis. It follows Edward (Russell Shealy) as he attempts to cope with both his and his children’s grief from the passing of his wife some six months prior to the story’s beginning.
Whilst Edward is starting to move on with his life, he is particularly perturbed at how his daughter Mathilda (Ava Torres) is behaving; her strange mode of speech, disturbing drawings and at times almost incestuous behaviours towards him are causing him some upset.
She also talks about the Rickety Man, an imaginary friend she’s made in the forest beyond the garden gate and the subject of her drawings.
It is a shame, then, that beyond the shorts’ strong opening, we don’t spend any real time with Mathilda. She is observed from the outside, kept at arm’s length.
It would have been a dark pleasure to see Mathilda’s corruption, as with Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973), but instead we meet her already under the Rickety Man’s influence. His spell already cast.
It is to be understood that time is a factor in a short film but the lack of a before to the Rickety Man’s demonic after makes one feel like Mathilda’s behaviours accelerate and ramp up with no discernible cause. Thus, they feel disconnected from Edward’s grief instead of being linked to them. It feels like The Rickety Man is more concerned with its horrific punchline than its characters.
Going beyond the gate
But is the aforementioned punchline scary?
Yes. The film delivers a solid sense of dread, wisely keeping the Rickety Man off screen – save for a few glimpses – and Torres’s unpredictable performance creates unease despite a lack of character development.
Shealy, too, delivers a strong physical performance and when the big reveal comes it stays with you. One simply feels it comes too quickly and without clear thematic motivation.
Overall, The Rickety Man is a worthwhile watch in order to study how period trappings and the subtle use of an interesting Babadook-like creature can make an impact in a short timespan.
But unlike the Babadook (2014), or The Exorcist, a lack of complex character development holds this back from becoming a truly great, must-share short film.
A screenwriter based in the North East of England. Loves producing slow-burning, thoughtful stories with an undercurrent of graphic violence.