It Began Without Warning cannot be accused of false advertising. A black card opens the film with the time and date of the action, and from there it’s straight to the blood-letting. That’s right—no world-building, no expositional set-up, no light-hearted character moments. From the get-go IBWW captures normal suburban types locked in an animalistic struggle for survival. It is intense.
While it seems straightforwardly apparent in this internet-optimized age to grab your audience’s attention out of the gate, it is still rather rare for the short films we feature, and at only 6min, IBWW’s emphasis on action leaves itself open to concerns of being narratively light. Isn’t world-building and character-development sort of important elements to…y’know, good filmmaking?
What the writing/directing duo of Santiago Tapia and Jessica Curtright figured out is that while tension is necessary in a horror short, it doesn’t need to be built through the traditional horror toolkit that overuses musical cues, red herrings, and jump scares. Most of these films are long stretches of nothing, awaiting that frightening something. Instead Tapia & Cartwright optimize for action— what if you lead with the bloody baseball bat, and build tension through the mystery of what it means? 90 seconds in, and there is a large knife in a stomach, and already your initial expectation of the type of film you’re watching has been overthrown.
There is a refreshing directness that extends to all aspects of the production: the violence is visceral (and practical!). While most of the gore is not directly imaged, it’s a very straight-forward and causal relationship between the shots. Even the showier aspects of the cinematography are contained to urgent, almost impatient, steadicam movements by Tapia. The image quality is slightly video-like which imbues this domestic horror with a bit of the psychological effect of the found-footage sub-genre, which is a nice touch once the film plays its hand and reveals its true spiritual influences. Some of the elements are a bit rough, some the cuts a bit clumsy, but there is a rare sense of purpose to almost every decision within the film that feels revelatory.
Tapia and Curtright know their horror history quite extensively, and while I am not as versed, IBWW feels like the kind of good movie uber-fans make—familiar, yet with a new entry point, and a new energy that comes from liberating the form of musty baggage and sculpting it into something leaner, and meaner. I’m not the only one to feel this way, the film was a crowd fave at SXSW 2017 in their famous “Midnight” program, and also picked up an Audience award at Fantasia. The duo also have a powerful mentor on their side in Exec Producer Couper Samuelson, President of Feature Films at Blumhouse and Exec Producer of Get Out. With great success in drawing from the shorts film ranks with David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) are Tapia and Curtwright being groomed to make a similar jump? They are working on a feature script for It Began Without Warning as we speak.