Horror has emerged as the most meritocratic genre for shorts filmmakers in recent years, with many recent examples of filmmakers leveraging short-form success into big theatrical feature opportunities—Fede Alvarez, David Sandberg and Jennifer Kent have become household names, and shorts adaptations from site alums like Jacob Chase, Ángel Gómez Hernández, and Rod Blackhurst, are in queue. Lars Klevberg must be added to that list of shining talents now, as he is wrapping up his second studio Film off the acclaim for this, his breakthrough short.
Premiering today online, Polaroid is a dark and stylish thriller that made a splash on the festival circuit in 2015. Set in a large Norwegian farmhouse in the middle of winter, two young ladies, Sarah and Linda, are clearing the place out after the death of Sarah’s mother. Most of their conversation surrounds social media and the posting of provocative shots to the benefit, or expense, of their reputations, but this light-hearted chatter gives way to fear when strange occurrences emerge following the uncovering of an old Polaroid camera.
Trends in shorts move so fast, so in the wake of sophisticated treatises on social media like 2018’s Short of the Year I Know You From Somewhere, the pair’s discourse on “likes” and Justin Bieber retweets can feel somewhat dated already—as does the technological hook (we’ve subsequently had numerous iPad and Alexa-based horror shorts). On the other hand, what Polaroid does with the basic horror playbook is still a marvel. Shot with the grace of a festival-winning drama, its look, precision, and Klevberg’s assured directorial hand, make the film an instant outlier in the often amateurish short horror category—as does its 16min runtime, which at first seems superfluous for what is essentially a jump-scare short, but the added space for characterization does genuinely pay off in increased investment from the audience.
As a person who doesn’t like horror shorts very much, I still can’t help being impressed by Polaroid. Yes, it relies on familiar mechanics: inexplicably dark hallways, devices mysteriously activating independently, doors closing on their own—but Klevberg doles out these tense sequences with a level of thoughtfulness and subtlety. The blink-and-you-miss it VFX of the initial Polaroid snap is a wonderful example of this restrained, but potent approach to horror. A frequent gripe of mine is horror shorts that are far too dimly lit, and while Klevberg and his DP, Pål Ulvik Rokseth, keep much of the latter half of the film in impenetrable shadow, they use it to their advantage as an element of composition as opposed to a disguising veil. Additionally, rather than building everything to a single payoff, numerous scenes effectively worm their way under the skin—if horror shorts are your thing, Polaroid certainly delivers.
Produced by John Hagen and Petter Onstad Løkke (familiar to us for his work with Henry K. Norvalls), Polaroid was optioned by Dimension Films for feature development off the festival circuit. That film came together relatively quickly, with Klevberg maintaining his role, and was set for release this past November. However, due to the turmoil surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace, many of the films associated with the Weinstein Co. are currently in limbo, and Polaroid has failed to see release. Heavily tracked in horror fan circles, there has been a hope that Netflix would swoop in and release the film, but we’re still awaiting word on whether this will happen.
While it is disappointing that the feature adaptation of Polaroid is, for now, hidden away, Klevberg has been able to keep his career rolling—he is currently in post-production on a much anticipated reboot of the Child’s Play franchise, which is set to hit theaters this summer.