Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
The Tell Tale Heart is probably the most unique entry I’ve had into my Short Film Saturdays column, because the story is told entirely through song and from one perspective.
Danny Ashkenasi has adapted Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell Tale Heart into a series of musical numbers. It’s described as a “musicabre”, a phrase I am now very fond of.
Poe’s classic 1843 short story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, who tries to convince the reader of his sanity while simultaneously describing a murder they committed.
In this adaptation, the narrator is played by Ashkenasi, who also wrote and directed the film. It’s clear just how much work he’s put into this project to bring it to life.
The Tell Tale Heart stays largely true to its source material, which is just over 2,200 words in length. Ashkenasi’s songs are named after famous lines from the book, the first one being True, Nervous, after the iconic opening line.
His version of the narrator is just wonderful. It’s a bold performance of such an iconic literary figure, who seems to leap out of the pages and deliver that much-loved story on screen.
What struck me most was just how much emotion Ashkenasi was able to convey in his face as he sang, and at times I found myself feeling very disturbed by it.
Teamed with close ups on his expression, it makes for a very uncomfortable and claustrophobic experience.
That’s a compliment of course, as Poe’s tale of a man losing his sanity is meant to be uncomfortable, and has certaintly stood the test of time 177 years later.
The Tell Tale Heart translates very well on-screen, and at 37 minutes in length, the film takes us on a journey through the narrator’s crime as well as his sanity.
Throughout its runtime, he naturally becomes more and more unhinged. Footage of Ashkenasi singing is spliced with footage of the crime itself, switching from colour to black and white.
The film’s colour palette is an interesting one too, there’s lots of grey, green, and reds reflecting both the theatre lighting, and colours associated with the gothic period. A spotlight follows the narrator throughout too, so our focus is constantly on him.
The songs themselves are beautifully arranged, I loved the use of cellos to really heighten the tension when it was most needed. In addition, the use of silence is also impressive, as it creates further suspense when needed.
The Tell Tale Heart feels like a gorgeous celebration of musical theatre and film, with the two elements complementing each other throughout.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film’s final moments were my favourite. This is the famous moment where the narrator finally cracks and reveals what he’s done, and that he can hear the beating heart of his deceased victim.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but the way it’s arranged is beautifully done and is a fitting end to a convincing, highly energetic performance. Bravo!
This is a must-watch for fans of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd and Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, two films which perfectly team music with horror.
And of course, it’s also essential viewing for Poe fans or those who love gothic horror. I promise you won’t regret it.
This short has played at festivals, and you can find out more about that here.
Finally, you can watch the trailer below.
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