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As Body, the new thriller from filmmakers Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, who co-wrote and directed it, proves, horror really is open to many interpretations. This sophisticated take on Hitchcockian bluff and double bluff shows you don’t need the supernatural or mysteries of the unexplained to create chills and nervy tension.

Bored by the Christmas activities at home, three friends, Holly (Helen Rogers), Cali (Alexandra Turshen), and Mel (Lauren Molina) decide to crash the empty house of Cali’s uncle – who is on vacation – for an impromptu party. Only once the girls have made themselves comfortable, Cali’s friends discover that she may not have been being completely honest about her relationship with the owner of the deserted mansion. Cali’s ‘little white lie’ however, turns out to be the least of the trio’s problems, after they realize the house is not deserted as they initially thought.

Body is the perfect example of the less-is-more mantra that seems to have passed modern filmmakers by, particularly those involved in the horror genre. They believe instead that to create scares you must pile on the gore and viscerality, forgetting that the mind can often conjure up much worse imagery than can ever be depicted on the screen. Real life situations which could, at a stretch, actually happen, are far frequently more disturbing than the mythical monsters or creatures from outer space which haunt many films that pass themselves off as modern horror.

Fortunately the superiorly effective, pared back approach to filmmaking is something which permeates every aspect of Berk and Olsen’s Body, with a tension reminiscent of Hitchcock’s 1948 ensemble masterpiece Rope. The fact that this is the first feature to be directed by both men doesn’t show, and the increasingly palpable air of menace which they achieve belies their inexperience.

Coming in at seventy five minutes the film is the length of little more than an extended television episode. Also, with a main cast of only four people – one of whom spends the majority of screen time prostrate on the floor (it’s not giving anything away to reveal that they are the ‘body’ of the title) – and most of the action taking place within three of four rooms in one house, nothing appearing onscreen is surplus to requirements.

Apart from actor Larry Fessenden – who plays the part of the unfortunate ‘body’ to a tee – the main cast, made up of the three girls, are all relative unknowns: though they have a wealth of experience between them, for the most part this has been restricted to roles in shorts and television movies. Their freshness to major roles never shows however, with Turshen in particular standing out as she effortlessly takes the character of Cali from good-time, party-loving teenager to manipulative and callous young woman with disturbingly believable ease.

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With a to-die-for setting – that laid-back decadence forms the perfect backdrop for this story of grisly yuletide deceit and double-crossing to play out against – Body is a classic example of contemporary, psychological horror, and an indicator of the direction the genre should be heading if it wishes to remain fresh.

Body is now available on DVD in the UK

Cleaver Patterson