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Bickel’s “Killer Mind” a thrilling slice of horror that leaves you wanting more

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Gerald Bickel released his short film “Killer Mind” on YouTube today, which you can watch in its entirety here:

The film stars Great Falls actors Marky Douglas, Keern Haslem and Amy Hardtke-Rattray.

It’s clear by watching this film next to Bickel’s previous efforts that he’s learning the craft of how to create suspense, how to make you feel terror and how to translate that onto the screen.

I think doing a short film is a perfect avenue for him to take to as it doesn’t need a long bit of narration, plot development or dialogue. All things that he’s had varying degrees of success in his full-length features.

A scene from Gerald Bickel's "Killer Mind" short film.
A scene from Gerald Bickel’s “Killer Mind” short film.

The story amounts to a child who, after seeing the father character, portrayed by Haslem, take to violence against the mother character, portrayed by Hardtke-Rattray, through some kind of supernatural ability starts making violent things happen himself.

Whether the violence is perpetuated by the child or the man is very much up in the air, and can depend on what you believe.

One could argue that the man gets violent after seeing the woman react in fear to the bloody X on the mirror. One could counter argue and say that the man would have found something else to get upset about and likely would have taken out his aggression on the woman even if the red X had not appeared and that the child learned it from his father.

It’s an interesting discussion that delves into the psychology of what makes a person violent. I happen to believe that if a man is a violent person, you cannot point to the symptoms as the cause for his behavior, but the discussion is an interesting one with multiple ways of approaching it.

As for the delivery, before we get to what needs some work, let’s look at the strong parts.

As with most of Bickel’s films, the cinematography is done nicely and it feels like you’re watching a professional-looking bit of cinema throughout. I really enjoyed how it starts with the close-up on the boy digging into his finger with the screw followed by the credits inside his blood cells.

Douglas does a good job with his scenes, even if he doesn’t have any dialogue. His nonverbal cues are for the most part spot on and it helps set up the horror.

I really enjoyed the shot of the belt set from the bottom of the belt around 3:22, which might be my favorite shot in the entire film.

It’s a unique perspective and continues to build up that tension as the viewer starts to wonder how bad it’s going to get.

A little further along in that same scene, after Keern’s character gets struck in the head after attempting to go after the woman, his look he gives toward the camera of pure evil is a chilling one and you as the viewer know that he’s clearly going to go after the boy next.

Finally, the representation of the Tonka truck and its connection to Keern’s real truck is a nice effect that gives you the viewer a connection into what’s coming next.

As for the acting, while it’s done well throughout, there is a scene around 2:52 that could possibly have been re-shot. It’s the battle between Haslem and Hardtke-Rattray, which starts to feel a bit too choreographed. Making a fake fight look real isn’t easy, especially if you’re unable to use all of the fancy Hollywood effects that make a slap or punch from several feet away line up with a person’s face easy, but perhaps it could have been a little more aggressive, if only to prevent the viewer from being taken out of the moment.

As my friend John Kay pointed out, there’s a scene with Keern when he’s exiting his truck and he appears to have a tattoo on his arm that, if you’re paying attention to his arm in other scenes, does not appear to be there. That’s an error in contingency that could have been fixed, but one that I did not see until John pointed it out.

I also thought Douglas’s whisper effect was done well, for the most part, except when it’s not.

Around 5:08, it starts to sound like Douglas giving stage direction to the actors, although we’re not really sure as it’s not loud enough. Perhaps writing something a little more oblique could have alleviated this, or make his words less intelligible so people don’t have the chance at understanding what he’s saying. Maybe hearing what he was saying was the intended effect, but maybe not. It’s not entirely clear, which creates a bit of confusion for a few minutes.

And finally, this is only a minor complaint, but it might have been nice to see the aftermath of what happened when Keern was struck by the plane.

Perhaps that’s not realistic to expect a local filmmaker to have the means to create a wreckage scene, and that’s fine, but my first time watching through, I wondered what happened next, and if he had lived or if he didn’t make it, or what the truck looked like now. The shot that the film ends with is a strong one, but you can’t but help but wonder what it looks like after the wreck.

All and all I think the short film works on several levels and has enough ingredients to give you a good thrill. As I said above, the evolution of Bickel’s productions continues to improve and having this be a short film helps in that it’s not too long, and it’s no too short, but simply a slice of terror served cold.

For more information on Bickel’s projects, visit his YouTube Channel here.

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