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Sarah Young’s short film about the "perfectly married couple" will send you on an intense journey of anxiety and stress that feels astronomically longer than its 15-minute run time

The helmer, who also penned the film script, squeezes in classic horror devices such as possession and jump scares, while also delving into an exploration of domestic violence and sexual assault. She explains that she has a “personal connection” to these themes. Not Him seeks to spread its wings and expand into the intriguing psychological horror territory.

Does the perfect married couple even exist or is it just an outrageous pipe dream of an idea that always feels a little too contrived? Michelle (Tori Ernst) and John (Charlie McElveen) are the idealistic twosome in question, seemingly living that dreamlike life found in fairytales. That, however, is far from the truth. Behind the scenes, John has begun to exhibit erratic and violent behaviour. Michelle now fears for her life as the person she fell in love with is no more. It takes an event of unseen violence for her to seek help, but this marriage, which has been masquerading as immaculate for so long now, is one that her friends believe would never turn down a wicked corner.

Ernst is magnetic in the role and spearheads the whole endeavour as the trauma-induced wife. There’s genuine terror in her voice and absolute fear in her eyes. A magnetic performance as such needs an opposite. McElveen’s John is an uneasy presence: a very effective villain that will intimidate audiences when given the chance. This is just a snippet of a tumultuous relationship, but it’s enough to make you wonder what will happen next.

Not Him feels like it was plucked out from the middle of a feature film. It forces you to try and connect the dots and to craft your own narrative origins. Your imagination will fabricate an endless number of possibilities. It seems that Not Him aimed to show just enough to hopefully get that green light on a feature film. Young’s quest to create a horror about domestic violence, like The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014) and Smile (Parker Finn, 2022) did for mental illness and grief, has some way to go, but the early signs are there to be seen and it’s exciting to see what will become it.

Not Him shows at the Oxford Film Festival.

By John McDonald - 10-05-2024

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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