Let’s face it: life as we know it is becoming somewhat normal once again. The quarantine couch potato life for hardcore film buffs and those introduced into the horror genre by constant indoor life may be coming to an end. But what if I told you that, just maybe, you could squeeze some spooky watching into your schedule, or even still dip your toe into the waters in under ten minutes?
Fear not! Because, Youtube and independent filmmakers who embrace (and use) the red play button platform have you covered. For this piece, we’re diving into Cult Affairs, a short film by content creator Nate Thompson, an American filmmaker, writer, and photographer. His works include Cult Affairs, What Lives in the Dark, and Small Town Michigan, among others.
Nate is clearly an eclectic guy and certainly did not miss the mark when rummaging through the bag of classic horror tropes. Now, let’s face it—seeing the same tricks and stories told in any genre of filmmaking can get old. However, Cult Affairs gave me not only a sense of dread and claustrophobia but also a lingering case of the creeps.
Viewers are greeted by a dimly lit (but otherwise pitch black) room with two men. One is introduced as Mr. James, bound at the mercy of what you can only sense is a very bad man. Now, my first thought before even reading the description was, “What did this James guy do to piss the candle lit cult leader off?”
As you can suspect and imagine, Mr. James is in some very deep trouble that there’s no chance of escaping.
A few things that I very much enjoyed;
Ambience and lighting; As the viewer, when seeing the pitch black room with an eerily limited glow that barely illuminates the two men, makes you feel as helpless and trapped as James. It almost lures you into a false sense of security as well, one that heightens your sense of hearing—something that I believe is incredibly important when it comes to score and music.
Short and Sweet Dialogue: As James is bound and hushed by duct tape, all he can do is emit muffled screams and pleas. Luckily (or unluckily) for him? The Cult Leader does all of the talking. With each sentence and oddly poetic reflection, it prolongs the fate of James. It also makes the viewer incredibly uneasy, rendering them completely speechless.
The dynamic of feeling like you’re in both James’ & the Cult Leader’s shoes:
Here’s where things get a bit tricky in a moral sense. Let’s start with James. We’ve all probably done something to piss people off, felt in those moments that we should prevent ourselves from digging the verbal hole deeper—or the only chance of shutting up is by duct tape. Or that, in those moments, we feel just as helpless.
The Cult Leader represents himself as misunderstood with sensible justification. That, regardless of James crossing him, there is no other way out to protect themselves but to get rid of the problem. It’s probably the horror fan in me mixed with a bit of cynicism, but for every big bad? There’s a part of you that may even feel bad for them, feeling at times backed into a proverbial corner.
Plus, as a personal bias, I love when villains have or demand a soundtrack play right before the kill—in this case, Frank Stanley’s “When The Mockingbirds Are Singing in the Wildwood.” An eerily upbeat tune that does the opposite of brightening the mood (for James and the viewer at least).
I would give Cult Affairs a solid 3 out of 5. This short film left me with chills, yet the impression didn’t stick around long after viewing.
All in all, if you’re a dedicated horror fan in a time crunch, or if you’re looking for an introduction to send your pals who are on the fence about the genre, I absolutely recommend Cult Affairs. If you want to dive into more of Nate’s work, here are his social media links.