Defarious (2016): Abbreviated Sound Based Horror (Review)

DEFARIOUS wide screen poster

Directed and co-written by Chase Michael Pallante (Zay Rodriguez was the other half of the writing team) is a splendid first time effort in the world of  horror. Pallante abbreviates action that has been punctuated by sound with special attention being paid to the peripherals.

As the film starts, the sounds of the night; a hooting owl along with some overly loud crickets, begin to almost imperceptibly slow down as does the overly loud ticking grandfather clock in the dining room. Later Amy’s heartbeat will follow suit.

This technique is used repeatedly in his re-telling of a nightmare bleeding into real life. Defarious’ protagonist, Amy (Janet Miranda) wakes from a dream in which a white faced entity gets too close for comfort. 

Hyperventilating, the young woman tries to gather herself and fumbles in the dark. Noises are heard, again that use of sound, and when she goes to investigate, the figure from her dreams; Defarious (Jason Torres) appears.

Pallante uses sound, much like Dario Argento did in Suspiria, as a means of translating the action and the horror. He signals intent with a slowing of the heartbeat, the chirruping of the crickets and the ticking of the clock. He blurs the action, denoting an entry into a dream world made flesh, and evokes those child-like feelings of a waking nightmare.

(At one point, Amy sees her mother, who is clearly not alive, and gasps “mom” very reminiscent of a child; half-awake, trying to call to a parent while in a deep state of fear.)

The film aptly signifies a dream state and manages to convey Amy’s fear. Pallante paints his story with a very dark palette and this may well be the only real complaint with the film.

With such an emphasis on having the darkness overshadow the events as they transpire, it relies that bit too heavily on sound to make its point.  The things on offer visually are shown for a split second, except for the attack at the top of the stairs, and it annoys rather than scares.

However…

This is a sterling first effort, Pallante has since directed two more short films, and this one has garnered the filmmaker an award for Best Film at the 2016 Northeast Film Festival Horror Fest. The film does benefit from a deft editing job, by Pallante, and a satisfactory mixing of sound and imagery to present a scary theme.

Defarious relies upon a minimal amount of dialogue to tells its story. Amy gasps, breathes heavily, cries out and calls for her mum. The rest of the sounds are background or peripheral noises that are used to set up a scene. This works well but it also follows a 2016 trend where a number of short films decided to forego dialogue.

Pallante does, however, use sound to convey much more than mood or atmosphere. Watch the scenes very carefully and it becomes clear that the director has pulled off a very adroit smoke and mirrors act with sound.

Defarious is a solid 3 star film. It delivers a satisfactory scare and despite using the, by now almost clichéd rumbling sound first introduced in the 2007 film Paranormal Activity and a load of other films since, the film elicit the response it goes for.

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Author: Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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