‘The Rule of Three’ (2020) Short Film Review: An Empowering Story of Survival

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, more commonly known by its acronym OCD, is a torturous mental illness imprisoning an individual in vicious cycles of repetitive thoughts and rituals. Driven by irrational fears—consciously or subconsciously—that something horrible may happen without completion, the afflicted person is compelled to perform tasks a number of times until the compulsion is satisfied. On a mild level, this psychological disorder is a habitual annoyance eating up time throughout one’s day. On an extreme level eloquently portrayed in The Rule of Three, the latest horror short from young filmmaker Elwood Walker (Trick 2019 – read our review here), this mental illness is a relentless nightmare from which there’s no escape.

What began for Aly (Hannah Barefoot: Lucifier TV series) as silly repetitive rituals for luck, such as locking the door and closing the drapes three times, developed into habits ensuring these everyday tasks were completed. However, as an adult, these acts of certainty have involuntarily spiraled into full-blown OCD, haunting Aly’s every waking hour and plaguing her every thought. Hoping to regain control over her life, the troubled woman takes the advice of her therapist, Doctor Torrance (James Warfield: Bloodsucking Bastards 2015).

Hannah Barefoot as Aly in The Rule of Three

As night falls, Aly attempts to take back her life by breaking one ritual, performing an action only once while reciting a mantra to alleviate distress. However, conditions for facing her inner demons become much more extreme when three masked slashers straight out of The Strangers (2008) break into Aly’s home with sinister intent. Will she survive this hellish night? Or succumb to a terrifying fate?

Never ceasing to amaze, Walker outdoes himself yet again, bringing to life a psychological horror story of substance tackling the very real topic of mental illness. Few horrors in this world compare to the shackles of one’s own mind making life and life-threatening situations that much more terrifying. Intelligently written with a clever, meaningful twist, The Rule of Three packs a powerful punch for those who are familiar with psychological disorders of any kind.

A home intruder stalks Aly

At face value, individuals unfamiliar with OCD may think the disorder is humorous and nonsensical. However, the talent in front and behind the camera bring to light the reality of this debilitating mental illness. Barefoot gives a riveting performance forcing you to sympathize with Aly while holding your breath in every suspenseful moment as she fights for her life. Enhancing every angle is cinematographer Bennett Barbosa (Kissed – read our review here) who gives this indie short film a Hollywood look while composer Alexander Taylor emphasizes every foreboding and emotional detail.

It’s a rare thing for me not to have any constructive criticism in a review. In this case, I can’t see how this short film could have been any better. Riddled with genre nods, such as Doctor Torrance being named after our favorite Overlook dwelling family and the aforementioned villains from The Strangers, Walker’s latest short exhibits a love for horror while retaining originality.

The Rule of Three is an empowering, psychological horror homage unleashing real-life terrors and inner demons while offering a sense of hope and reprieve. Sure to be an award-winner on the festival circuit, this short is further proof of Walker’s artistry, a talent I hope to someday see applied to an enthralling full-length feature.

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