‘Ryker’ (2019) Short Film Review: A Classic Case of Psychosis

The disturbed psyche of psychiatric patients is a topic that has fascinated horror aficionados for decades, inspiring countless psychological thrillers and slashers from Psycho (1960) to Terrifier (2017). Rookie filmmaker David Bennett takes a stab at this subject matter, entering the horror arena with his short entitled Ryker. And, unlike Michael Myers, this story’s patient is a bit more verbally expressive about his downward spiral in life.

Setting context for what is to come, Ryker opens by cautioning viewers of the unsettling psychiatric interview that is about to unravel. Released to the public for the first time is footage of the Brookside State Mental Hospital’s evaluation of Ben Ryker (Bennett) conducted by Dr. Robert J. Philip (Russell Ketterman), an interview that takes a troubling turn when Ben asks “what’s the point of life if, when in the end, none of us make it out alive.” In the form of a monologue, this thought process takes a turn down a rabbit hole from which there’s no coming back.

Demonstrating his ability on both sides of the camera, Bennett drives the film with a chilling soliloquy conveying his frustration with life. Emphasizing his desire to be more than the outcast he perceives himself to be, Ben quickly makes it clear that he is a dangerously damaged soul, downtrodden and forgotten by society. While he is no Joaquin Phoenix, Bennett shows potential through his speech, body language and mannerisms, projecting an impressive level of broken madness.

A simple yet progressively eerie, unnerving score enhances Ryker’s descent into insanity, cleverly utilized to complement his mood and actions. This crucial attention to detail is imperative to holding this short film above its shortcomings. However, other details seem to be amiss holding Ryker from reaching full potential.

Threatening to pull the audience out of this story are the wardrobe and set location. While Ketterman gives a commendable performance as a psychiatrist, he looks nothing of the part. This character could have been brought out more with a tie and lab coat while Bennett’s role could have benefited from a more simple wardrobe such as a plain t-shirt and bathrobe. Afterall, the first minute of the short film heavily implies that this story will take place in a psychiatric hospital, a setting that just isn’t conveyed.

Though we expect to be shown a hospital setting, the surrounding environment appears to be a bedroom. Perhaps this is due to limited resources. However, the script could have been adapted to fit the location, placing the psychiatric interview at an in-home visit following the patient’s hospital release. Another element that may have helped bring this intriguing story to further fruition is the cinematography. By incorporating a few raw found-footage shots, another captivating cinematic layer could have been added to give this film a realistic, gritty shine.

Although lacking some critical detail, Ryker offers up some raw talent that merely needs to be developed, refined and sharpened. Showing his ability to capture an unnerving vibe while developing suspense, this young filmmaker is off to a great start to reaching the full potential in his craft.

Click the link below to check out Bennett’s short horror debut.

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