Proving himself one of the new masters of atmospheric horror, we’re pleased to welcome back Casper Rudolf Emil Kjeldsen to Short of the Week. Featured in 2019 with Den (The Mare), which Ivan Kander called, at the time, “one of the most technically well-crafted suspense horror shorts of recent memory”, Kjeldsen’s new release, Det er i Jorden (In the Soil), is, in many ways, a continuation of the template he previously set. A story of a father’s self-destructive compulsion and the effect it has on his daughter, the filmmaker again showcases his striking eye for composition, patient approach to suspense, and an allegorical storytelling style that skirts the supernatural and the psychological in thought-provoking ways.
Not a lot happens during the 16min runtime of In the Soil and that is sure to be divisive for viewers. Kjeldsen’s approach can border on pedantic as the film favors long, uninterrupted takes, which are only occasionally augmented by slow, deliberate pushes and pans. The filmmaking is actually fairly minimalistic—Kjeldsen confirms that one of the production’s “rules” was to conceptualize each scene with only 3 shots in order to keep the visual language economical and as “focused on the important as possible.” Yet the short is potent visually—presented in a 4:3 ratio, and a shot-on-film look, In the Soil is very attuned to markers within the “elevated horror” trend, and with so few shots, the importance of each is heightened. Numerous shots within the piece offer the opportunity to showcase Kjeldsen’s impressive eye, as well as the talents of DP Tobias Scavenius, who continues his collaboration with the director from Den (The Mare).
Thematically, In the Soil is fairly direct, which is a slight deviation for the director. Part of Ivan’s criticism of Den (The Mare) was a certain “style-over-substance” as some of the more interesting readings of that film felt too flimsy to support. In the Soil has an opening and closing shot that hint at the metaphysical, but fundamentally one’s experience with the plot and characters is psychological. Kjeldsen states that he conceptualized the film as a “cinematic effort in recreating the atmosphere and feeling of being a child in a home of neglect,” and there is certainly a bluntness to having a character spend most of the film digging a grave. Is he being compelled by the land itself? Some sort of dark spirit that is the legacy of long-past evil? Or is he compelled by his own psychosis? Does it ultimately matter?
That searing question dominates the viewing experience alongside one other—who is the grave for? Himself, or his daughter? One of the advantages of Kjelden’s minimalism, of the long takes in the film, is the way we are able to linger on the face of Karoline (Sandra Guldberg Kampp). It is a reserved performance but heartrending in the knowingness that is exhibited—though she doesn’t understand why, she can see the pathology at work in her father and understands more clearly than the viewer what it portends. There is resistance, but it is half-hearted, as there there is a sort of capitulation in advance to her father’s sickness and a haunting knowledge of the futility of doing anything about it. These are the most affecting moments of the film and as a result, it feels as though the true climax of the film arrives at the second act break.
In the Soil premieres online today after a festival run that saw it chosen as one of the 10 official short film selections of the Cannes Film Festival and then play to appreciative audiences at Fantasia, Clermont-Ferrand, and Palm Springs. Kjelden tells us that he has just recently finished a new, proof-of-concept short, and that he is currently developing a feature with an American production company as well as a TV-Series.