Just when you thought The Boy had irreparably dented the “sinister doll” subgenre, Scott Lyus gives it a sorely-needed shot in the arm with Silently Within Your Shadow, an entertainingly unhinged short film with a satisfying sting in the tail.
Protagonist Lucette (Sophie Tergeist) lives with her boyfriend Jace (Byron Fernandes), and in what is an impressively assured move, the film diverts from its main plot while Jace reads Lucette a macabre story from the newspaper. While this sounds like a pretty inoccuous lead-off, the story itself is deeply unsettling campfire fodder, and as a result, it feels like an effective and subtle way of setting the tone. Observing the scene in the living room is Hugo, the ventriloquist’s dummy central to Lucette’s comedy act.
It’s evident that Jace is a little unsettled by Hugo’s presence, and this is where Silently Within Your Shadow finds its human side. The arguments they have over Lucette’s apparent dependence on the doll could be about any object we develop an irrational attachment to. It’s an extreme example, yes, but what could quite easily be a silly strand of the plot is examined with a tonal steady hand: the impact on their relationship is tangible, and it feels authentic.
While Jace’s growing resentment of Hugo is evident, naturally the central question of Silently Within Your Shadow is whether Hugo resents Jace just as much. The less you know about where the story proceeds from here, the better, but it moves from the first half’s relationship-driven character study into a spiralling, chaotic finale with impressive ease, and where the film really succeeds is on its impressive command of its tone. If this particular subgenre isn’t your thing, then this might not be the film that converts you, but this is a deeply sinister and solidly convincing take on a genre whose credibility has taken a few hits over the years.