David Deignan takes a look at Fergal Costello’s short horror film Stephanie starring Moe Dunford.
Moe Dunford must be the busiest actor in Ireland right now. He has five feature films releasing this year – including a magnetic turn in Paddy Breathnach’s recent Rosie – in addition to significant parts in two TV series and, now, the leading role in Stephanie, the frenetic new horror short from writer/director Fergal Costello.
Stephanie is an ambitious, deliberately ambiguous story which wrenches the viewer by the collar and refuses to let go from the first frame to the last. The narrative begins with Joe (Dunford) determinately struggling to protect the titular character, portrayed by Aoife Spratt, from the murderous intentions of Walsh (Joe Rooney). As tensions quickly escalate between the trio, it soon becomes clear that the secretive Stephanie is not all that she seems to be.
The abrupt opening quickly cultivates a tantalising sense of mystery: it doesn’t waste a second on exposition, instead preferring to drop the viewer without warning straight into the middle of the conflict. Violence looms like an ugly shadow throughout the opening sequences, threatening to burst to the fore at any moment. Costello’s clever script subtly balances the reveal of important information with intentional misdirection early on.
The film clocks in at just under 9 minutes in length and is impressively shot in one uninterrupted take. Costello’s staging is confident and plays out seamlessly while Philip Blake and Padraic Conaty deserve props for their work on the cinematography. The camera weaves its way dynamically around the characters on screen, reacting imaginatively to plot developments as they play out. Its eye is often trained on Dunford and he doesn’t miss a beat, ensuring that the internal rhythm plays out smoothly.
Mark Murphy’s pulsating musical score works well, plunging and escalating sharply as the action does. It comes to a crescendo in the third act, as the intensity increases, and contributes importantly to the film’s all-action finale.
The narrative’s initial hook is enticing and the opening minutes deftly draw the viewer into the story, with the early exchanges engrossing. But it falters somewhat in its second half, when it runs out of reveals and the execution of a key sequence becomes a bit messy, the film becoming caught up in its own franticity. The ambition on show, however, is undoubtedly admirable and the overall technical prowess on show serves to smooth over the plot’s weak points.
Stephanie feels like a sequence cut from a larger concept. While this is a testament to the world being built by Costello and crew, it also stops the story from fully resonating in its current form. It’s a shame – considering how effectively it starts – but this is still an enjoyable, stylishly executed short that’s well worth watching. And, with the director’s website listing his next project as a debut feature currently called Untitled Awesome Horror Film, I’d hope to see more of this story on screen soon. Lord knows Dunford could use the work.