SCREAMFEST 2021 REVIEW! Rubin (James Simenc) and Lilly (Katie Peabody) are celebrating their recent marriage and impending newborn child. Said festivities see them driving through the desert towards their honeymoon destination. But they aren’t the only ones on the road. The potential of horror lurking in things we take for granted every day can easily be overlooked. However, writer/director Craig Ouellette’s short film Anniversary manages to turn its seemingly mundane premise into a solid exercise in mounting tension.
While the plot may consist of all-too-familiar twists during its brief runtime, the filmmaker’s attention to visual flair makes this road trip all the more immersive and satisfying. The use of period-specific vehicles, soundtrack, and costumes (especially the wedding dress) made the 1960s/70s era come alive. This is compounded by director of photography Jorel Odell’s consistent and occasionally surreal visuals and the director’s razor-sharp editing, working together to subvert expectations fairly easily.
“…driving through the desert towards their honeymoon destination. But they aren’t the only ones on the road.”
Simenc and Peabody give solid performances, with their desperation dominating the final moments. While audiences don’t spend enough time with these characters to fully connect, they deliver enough in their roles so that those watching can reasonably empathize with Rubin and Lilly. Also, I would be remiss not to mention David Crane’s performance as Hippie Joe, as he’s the textbook definition of a Deadhead. The actor is outright hilarious for the entire time.
The swirl of genre elements, intensity, and shifting overall tones makes it reasonably easy to compare Anniversary to the early works of Wes Craven, and that thought left me with a broad smile. It is a brisk and concise experience that certainly impresses as a small piece of a much larger puzzle. Ouellette easily whets my appetite for the full-scale project coming to fruition, as his horror tale is one of the more compelling short films I’ve seen in a while.
Anniversary screened at the 2021 Los Angeles Screamfest.
"…manages to turn its seemingly mundane premise into a solid exercise in mounting tension."