After a ship ignores a lighthouse beacon, it runs aground on the reefs surrounding the small island of Three Skeleton Key. The lighthouse crew soon discover that something is on board the ship, and it’s not human.
It is rare that a film can drop you into a story and at once surround you in atmosphere while giving you an instant understanding of the world the story takes place in. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch Andrew Hamer’s new short film Three Skeleton Key, and was pulled in within the first few seconds of the 10 minute 11 second short.
Based on the classic short story by George G. Toudouze, Three Skeleton Key is set on a small lighthouse island 30 miles off the U.S. coast in 1921. Four men call this tiny column on the sea home, going stir crazy in the process. Terry (Robert Fleet) and Andre (Dan White) are at the top of the lighthouse planning to abandon their post by stealing the service boat to get back to the mainland. As the waves crash against the rocks surrounding the island, Terry spots a vessel headed toward the small island.
“…a wonderful example of mounting dread and tension.”
Andre wrings the fog bell, alerting their superiors of the impending wreck. Jim (Paul Rae) and Bill (Greg Perrow) reach the pinnacle of the lighthouse and decide that two of them should get down to shore to intercept any possible injured crew. Bill and Terry stay at the top of the lighthouse and as one of them peers into the night at the ship through a pair of binoculars, they realize that something is aboard the ship that is headed straight for them, and it’s not human. Trapped and isolated the men confront a threat that may end them just as it did the crew of the wayward ship.
Atmosphere is key with this piece and the film has it in spades. Aaron Grasso’s delicate photography catches the crisp yellows of the oil lanterns against the billowing blue fog in the distance. Krystyna Loboda’s production design creates instant atmosphere that provokes viewers to lean into the darkness to see what is coming.
This is writer/director Andrew Hamer’s unqualified triumph, however. Adapting the story, he efficiently sets up the scenario and the stakes for the isolated characters. Like a boat carrying Nosfaratu, the crew of the errant ship looms in the distance carrying deadly cargo and from the moment the movie starts we know, something bad is about to happen. The reveal of the threat comes at the last possible moment, stretching the anticipation to its extent in a lovely display of showmanship. Hamer knows how to build both atmosphere and tension and I could not get enough.
My only problem with the film is that I wanted more. Trapped on an island in a lighthouse was exactly where I wanted to stay, yet the movie is a mere 10 minutes.
This film is a wonderful example of mounting dread and tension and you need to catch it if it comes to a festival near you.
Three Skeleton Key (2017) Directed by: Andrew Hamer Written by: Andrew Hamer Starring: Robert Fleet, Greg Perrow, Paul Rae, Dan White
Three Skeleton Key is worth Matinee (***). Norm’s Rating System: Full Price (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)
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Horrible Imaginings Film Festival in San Diego (September 8-10)
2017 FilmQuest Film Festival in Utah (September 8-16)