Movie Review: By Appointment Only
Directed by John Faust, By Appointment Only is a very pleasant short horror flick. Ok, that may sound like an insult. Horror movies shouldn’t be pleasant. They should be the antithesis of pleasant, right? But I mean it as a major compliment. I’m not trying to say the film isn’t gory. It is. I’m also not saying the film isn’t creepy. It is. And, above all, I’m not saying the film isn’t scary. Because it is.
But, at the same time, the short has a very comforting horror movie kind of set-up: Lonely girl, car breaks down, weirdo guy ready to “rescue” her, abandoned house in the middle of nowhere, yadda, yadda, yadda. But no, not so much with the yadda, yadda here. Starting with a host of cliches is fine as long as the film does two things right. They are: Give us good characters to care about and give a reasonable spin on what we think is coming. And, yes, these two things are very present in this film.
The short is really anchored by an incredibly solid performance by lead actress Belen Greene. She’s the typical world-weary single gal, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, but very bold in her solitude. We only have a few scenes with her to give us her backstory, but her personal tale never comes out as sheer exposition. There’s a real gravity to her personality. We can feel the suffering she’s experienced in her life and here she is, ready to get on the right track, to have life open up for her so that she can experience joy possibly for the first time ever.
Of course, when you get a sense of a character’s bright new future blossoming in a horror flick, you know that her suffering is only just about to begin. But, before we get to that, the writing and directing in By Appointment Only is very tight. Belen meets up with a couple of freaks on the road. But the antagonists aren’t allowed to go over the top in their personality quirks or physical tics. Even with characters with whom you get the hint that there’s something nutty about them, it’s never something you can really put your finger on. Bad shit is about to go down, but Faust doesn’t tip his hand and leads us on a nice, leasurely pace to the inevitable bloody confrontation.
And while the milieu here compares to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre-ish — from sweat and dust covered characters to the ramshackle desert locations — Faust doesn’t leave it there. The film is actually less TCM and more Twilight Zone when all is said and done. It’s a thoughtful combination of the terrors of the flesh and of something much darker and insidious, which is something that’s missing in a lot of horror these days. It’s actually pretty easy to imagine all of the atrocities that man can heap upon man since they get played out so much in real life.
So, we get a lot of horror filmmakers trying to push that violence quotient, to accurately visualize the horrible stories that we hear on the news or read on the Internet. But squirming in your seat from watching gory acts is not the same as being scared. It’s kind of tedious. What Faust has done here that is so unusual is to take something that’s kind of old-fashioned, yet seems fresh since it’s a technique that’s been virtually abandoned. The horror here isn’t the specific violence — and there is violence in the film — but the implications of the larger story surrounding the short.
So that’s how I think an un-comforting horror flick can end up being quite comforting. It feels nice when a good scary story can leave an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach rather than whack you over the head with a sledgehammer.
Watch the By Appointment Only movie trailer: