The Daily Stream: Heck Is A Criminally Underseen Horror Short That Will Ruin Your Night And Then Your Life

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Heck"

Where You Can Stream It: YouTube

The Pitch: Two years and some months ago, a filmmaker named Kyle Edward Ball uploaded a short film called "Heck" to YouTube, a mostly silent yet utterly terror-filled 30-minute trip into the depths of a darkness you simply cannot trust — even though this darkness exists right within your very own home. The film's synopsis is simple, and it perfectly sets the scene without giving anything away: "A little kid wakes up in the middle of night to the sound of his mom's television blaring." It tells us nothing, yet everything, about the pure nightmare fuel that we're about to witness, and it certainly doesn't prepare us for it either. Go in with caution, but if you're a horror fan, this is nothing less than a mandatory watch.

Why it's essential viewing

The thing I've come to understand about Ball's work — work that I literally discovered last week and have since been enraptured by — is that he is a master of deception and reveal, which, if done well, can be so powerful that the one-two punch can completely consume the viewer. Further still, he is also a master of punching the emotion back into horror. "Heck" is particularly gripping for both these reasons. There are several reveals in the short that will nearly knock the wind out of you, one in particular with a sharp gust of dread paired with deep emotional despair. It's the cornerstone of Ball's work, and it's something he does better than nearly any other horror filmmaker I can think of.

Immediately while watching for the first time, it struck me that this film is inventive and completely unique Covid-era filmmaking to learn by. Ball's narratives play out so differently than most because he shoots next to or near the action so the action will fall into frame or be played outside of frame in a way where the sound informs your experience. You hardly see anyone in the film, even the child wielding the camera, so it was obviously a low-participation shoot which is perfect for the pandemic times when the film was shot. It's also shot in the lowest light possible, certainly on a very high ISO that is often hard to achieve and then probably graded intensely in post (where he also did some hellish things to the film's soundscape). The overall effect is immense, and it speaks to what can be done within social distancing guidelines in general in any genre, let alone just horror. Ball's films look and feel different than anything that has come before them, and that is a major testament to his vision and filmmaking practices. 

But wait, there's more...

This smart and deeply upsetting little film was the precursor to Ball's first feature film, a terrifying expansion of "Heck" with a slightly altered plot called "Skinamarink." That film is currently on the festival circuit, garnering rave reviews left and right. When you watch it, it's easy to see how it was born of "Heck," and where Ball wanted to play with more ways to terrify us in the same vein of his original short. After watching "Skinamarink" for the first time, I have no problem admitting to you that I slept with the lights on for two nights, and had to trial run turning them off on night three. Had I not been incidentally so tired that night, I'm not sure I would have succeeded. The movie, like "Heck," is not for the faint of heart, and both films are harbingers of the kind of immense talent — in a way unlike anyone else working in the genre right now — he has to show us. Thankfully, it has distribution with Mutiny Pictures, so folks will be able to see it at large sometime soon.

But Ball's utterly depraved short definitely paved a terrifying path for him as a filmmaker, which is a great thing for us. I can't wait to see what else comes from him, and I encourage you to wet your whistle with this film; you'll be putting his next one on your Letterboxd watchlist in no time.