“I wanted it to hurt”
One chapter from the horror anthology Creepers, Jeremiah Kipp‘s adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe‘s disturbing short story Berenice finds itself hindered by what I can only guess was a shoestring budget. A director who has excelled at creating stunning pitch-black tone with ambiguously delicious mystery in carefully composed thrillers, this twenty-minute horror finds itself delivering more unintentional laughs than frightening scares. The over-the-top and often amateurish acting does no favors and its brightly lit digital presentation of footage with a do-it-yourself sensibility puts the artifice front and center above any sense of the psychologically tumultuous atmosphere Poe’s prose presents.
Kipp takes a straightforward, linear approach to the plotting this time around, something his other works The Days God Slept and The Minions effectively threw out. As a result the film appears stilted through its transitions as though the brevity of its run time was far from what was necessary to naturally progress until its end (or perhaps an example of the producers’ need to ensure this short fit a specifically measured slot of the anthology’s whole). It becomes a checklist of scenes abruptly changing one into the other as a result with character motivations completely glossed over so its climactic reveal comes off as clumsy and devoid of suspense whether the cartoonish cackle accompanying it was present or not.
The story concerns an obsessive-compulsive introvert named Edward (Thomas Mendolia) and the arrival of his sick cousin Berenice (Cheryl Koski). Edward’s mother (Susan Adriensen) quickly explains how the family thought it’d be good for them both if she came for the season—creepily aware of the relationship her son and niece had, (Would have? Should have?), as though playing matchmaker. His stoicism keeps his interest hidden while her exuberance paints her as the weird one constantly trying to seduce him despite his apparent disinterest. Rather than show how they grow together, however, we’re pulled through a series of vignettes showcasing her seizures, their sex life, and the friends and family who without cause turn on them. Is it real? Is it all in his head? Hers?
By the end I’m not sure I really cared. Besides an effectively gruesome final shot, Berenice proves too disjointed to excel under its generic plot structure and too frank in its delivery to hide the nuance I’ve come to expect in Kipp’s work. If I hadn’t seen what the director did previously, I wouldn’t even question the veracity of what’s onscreen. It’s only through that experience that I give pause to whether what’s shown is happening outside of Edward’s head. No visual cues are present to say otherwise, though, and to therefore believe there’s more than meets the eye is misguided and without cause. Instead it’s merely a rushed story of obsession with caricatured characters pushing its lead towards oblivion with a smile before insincerely wailing at the result we all saw coming.