The award winning short film, The Dollmaker, is a topical horror short that uses a recognizable plot to help viewers make sense of their own often-messy lives. The film doesn’t break new ground, but rather lovingly pays homage to what’s nearly become a horror sub-genre: Grieving parents who make a deal with the devil to get their dead child back in their arms.
Things go bad. In these situations, they always go bad.
The Deytons recently lost their young son to tragedy. Mom Jenna (Perri Lauren: Ricki and the Flash 2015) consults an off-putting dollmaker (Daniel Martin Berkey: Pandora’s Box 2018) who promises to bring the boy back — for cold hard cash, of course. Dad Rick (Sean Meehan: The Taking of Pelham 123 2009) isn’t buying it and makes it clear he’s merely indulging his obviously shattered wife. The dollmaker lays down the obligatory rules the parents must follow if they want their son to remain resurrected.
Familiar ground? Yes and no. It’s what happens immediately after the guidelines are laid down that distinguishes The Dollmaker from other, similar morality tales. Because things don’t get scary, they get heart-rending. And poignant. And very nearly excruciating. And it’s all mostly due to quality performances and a melancholy sense of direction.
You don’t have to be a parent to lose yourself in the image of Jenna mindlessly feeding oatmeal to the thing that’s replaced her son. You don’t have to be a husband or father to sigh with frustration as Rick watches his wife’s sanity unravel before his your eyes, just like a man watching the woman he loves lose herself to drugs or alcohol.
The film works because its familiar framework can be a stand-in for whatever relatable head space the viewer wants.
It didn’t keep me invested for nearly 10 minutes because of its conventional story. Instead, it kept me interested because its raw display of the human dilemma comforted me in some odd way. I watch movies to feel less alone in a world that’s increasingly baffling. The Dollmaker, even with its stark tone, made me feel more at home.
The 2017 short won the Best Horror/Thriller award at last year’s Comic Con. It was directed by Al Lougher (So Dark 2016) and written by Matias Caruso (Mayhem 2017 – read our review here). With audiences debating the merits of the new Pet Semetary (2019) film, fans seeking a similar tale of Faustian bargaining can now catch The Dollmaker on ALTER, the new horror streaming platform the kids keep talking about. Check out the the short here or ALTER’s Facebook page.
Read another PopHorror writer’s thought on The Dollmaker here.