The Telephone is the second film in an anticipated trilogy of independent horror shorts produced by Nine Ladies Film. Created by a small core group of creatives and written and directed by Stuart Wheeldon, the film ambitiously draws together a story of mysterious disappearances, odd characters and a continually ringing telephone.
Reporter Richard (Bern Deegan) arrives in town to investigate the disappearance of Jane (Rachel Prince). Knowing that Jane had stayed at the local pub, Richard checks himself in and meets Max (Nigel Barber), a strange and somewhat sinister character. Barber plays Max with palpable relish which creates a great contrast to the more understated quiet performance of Deegan. As Richard begins to probe Jane’s disappearance, he is drawn to investigate the continually ringing phone and discover exactly what is happening in this odd, small world.
Hovering on the border between thriller and horror, the film starts atmospherically. An introduction to Max manically painting in a lair-like room followed by missing photos of young people, establishes what the audience can then expect. Richard arrives on the scene quickly, shifting the story along at the pace necessary for a short film. Both the music and bleached out quality of shots help to convey an unsettling edge to proceedings, creating a strong opening for Director Wheeldon
Filmed on location in Derbyshire, The Telephone makes great use of claustrophobic locations, whilst the set design and visual appeal of Max’s room is hard to fault. For a low budget independent film it makes sense to keep your characters and locations to a minimum and the film successfully creates a world within these confines. There are some nice ideas explored, the concept of the eternally ringing phone, not knowing who is at the other end, the secrecy of Max, the summoning of Richard. However, as the film progresses, there is also an influx of information that feels slightly unnecessary. The inclusion of flashback scenes fill in plot details that might have been better left for the viewer to come to their own conclusions about. In contrast, the visual and stylistic final scene contains no dialogue or answers and is far more satisfying and entertaining as a result.
For a short film, The Telephone has quite a lengthy running time and as such perhaps tries to provide too much information and answer too many questions. The strength of the film lies in the dramatic and visually interesting open and closing scenes. Sometimes less is more and with a little more obscurity alongside a little less explanation, it may have been an even more intriguing story to watch unfold.
The Telephone (2017, UK) / Director: Stuart Wheeldon / Cast: Nigel Barber, Bern Deegan, Rachel Prince