We’ve seen it all when it comes to horror shorts – killer Christmas trees, zombie childcare, a satanic guitar…Animal Crossing! – so it takes a lot for a film to come out of nowhere and scare us with something new. Director Quinn George manages to shock and surprise us in his six-minute SXSW short Significant Other, as he casts a mysterious red orb as the sinister presence in his storyline.
With George revealing they set out with the simple aim of creating a short which looked “polished enough that it could hold its own against filmmakers we look up to”, the director, along with his creative partners Brandon Schneider and Joe Martin, based the premise of film around the idea of an intruder – someone or in this case something, which enters your personal space without your knowledge.
“We wanted it to feel more surreal, less grounded in reality”
Opening with a close-up of a sleeping face (Matt Micucci as Paul), we quickly have an indication something isn’t quite right as we see light intermittently flick across his face, accompanied by the on/off click of a light switch (sure the ominous, rumbling soundtrack helps set the tone). It’s hard not to watch the start of Significant Other and be reminded of David F. Sandberg’s seminal horror short Lights Out, but where that 2013 film opted for more straightforward scares, George’s film aims for something more abstract.
“We wanted it to feel more surreal, less grounded in reality”, George explains as we discuss the inspiration for Significant Other. “We tossed around a ton of different ideas, and along the way I stumbled across a video that was testing out all these different lighting apparatuses in a stunningly beautiful way, and it ended with this glowing blue orb underwater. I completely fell in love. It all just clicked from there”.
Creating their scene-stealing red ball using practical techniques – George admits it’s just an orb “that you’d normally use as set decoration in a show like Love Island, glued to a c-stand” – there’s something both appealing (you do want to touch it) and disturbing about their eerie apartment intruder. I’m sure some will find the unexplained nature of the glowing sphere somewhat frustrating, but for me, it’s the mystery around it, and its effects, that works to intensify that feeling of creeping dread running through the film.
Although Significant Other somewhat breaks from its abstract approach to end with a more traditional monster reveal sequence, it certainly doesn’t feel like just another “jump scare” short. There’s something more disturbing and unnerving at play in George’s film and this is perfectly encapsulated by Paul’s final reaction. The film may end with a shot of its grinning ghoul, but it’s the slightly deranged smile on Paul’s face in the shot before that will haunt you long after its conclusion.
Director Quinn George is now working on “a small handful of other shorts”, while also developing a feature-length horror script.