“Get Away” filmmaker Michael Gabriele based his captivating horror short on a feeling every horror fan knows well: wishing you could shout advice at the people onscreen making bad decisions.
The film, which continued a successful festival run Wednesday night as part of the Fantasia Film Festival’s stunning Small Gauge Trauma late-night bloc of horror shorts, follows three young vacationers (Erika Lane Enggren, Steph Martinez and Lisa Jacqueline Starrett) who check into a desert outpost that one of them immediately brands a “murder house.” With no wifi, they settle in to watch the only thing available — a VHS tape in a low-budget franchise called “Desert Dwellers.”
Soon they notice that the desert outpost in the movie is the same one they’re staying in. And that the car outside looks familiar, too. Then they get a phone call… from the people in the movie. It all builds creepily to a very unsettling moment when a silhouetted being with glowing eyes begins making night moves. The film also stars Camila Ivera and Adrian Quiñonez.
You can watch the trailer here:
Michael Gabriele on Shooting ‘Get Away’
Gabriele, who co-wrote the film with Anthony Jefferson and alongside director of photography Ryan French and producers Mike McNamara and Danny Rhodes, was especially happy to attend the Montreal festival because he was born in the city and lived there until he was 10, when his family moved to Chicago. He now lives in Los Angeles, but screened it Wednesday night before an audience that included dozens of local relatives.
He went to Hollywood, and returned with a glowing-eyed VHS monster.
“A lot of times, I’ll watch a horror film and there’s a great setup, I’m all excited, and then you see the monster, and it’s this little prosthetic thing — it kind of pulls me out of it,” he told MovieMaker in an interview before the screening. “So I wanted to do something simple, like a silhouette, that you can imagine or project horror onto.”
It’s very effective, and a testament to the power of expertly executed simplicity. Gabriele created the creature using a bodysuit, and LED lights attacked to a headband, then worked with his DP, French, to avoid letting in too much light. He also worked with colorist Jeff Altman to remove even more light from the being’s body. Finally, he added some glitches to the body in post, like those in the playback of an overstretched VHS tape.
Without yelling at the screen, audiences have offered plenty of feedback: The film’s festival run has included winning the Audience Choice horror award at Indianapolis’ Indy Shorts, winning Best Horror at LA Shorts, and the Audience Choice Best Short Film and Audience Choice Best of Fest at the Cordillera International Film Festival, recently named one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals.
Screening at Fantasia was an achievement for both personal and professional reasons — it’s widely considered one of the greatest genre festivals in the world, and regularly appears on our list of 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.
Fantasia audiences are known for engaged questions, including one Wednesday night about the film’s camera angles. “Get Away” opens with a remarkable high-desert aerial shot that captures the vacationing trio’s car as the travel to their isolated getaway.
“From that high angle, looking down at the vastness of the desert, it feels like there’s something very small in this sort of big expanse,” Gabriele explained. “And then there’s a low-angle shot from the trunk to our hero that was almost like foreshadowing. … I talked a lot with my director of photography and we boarded it out at the very beginning just to try and get those types of moments, those types of shots that were either foreshadowing or just evocative.”
It all crescendos in a chilling, darkly comic final shot that takes the entire film to dark new heights.
Gabriele and his team are now developing a feature-length version of the film. But in the meantime, he took a moment to enjoy a homecoming that included the midnight applause of his family.
“It’s very, very special to be here with my film,” he said at the end of the night.
“Get Away” is continuing its festival run. The Fantasia Film Festival continues through August 9.
Main image: A still from “Get Away.”