Review: The Tell Tale Heart

Directed by McClain Lindquist and co-written with John Lindquist, based on the classic Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name. Following The Narrator (Sonny Grimsley), who is haunted by the “evil eye” of The Old Man (James C. Morris) whom he cares for. Descending into madness, The Narrator murders The Old Man, then hides the body under the floorboards. When Detective Tucker (Teren Turner) and Officer Sharpe (Mikah Olsen) come inquiring about The Old Man’s whereabouts, The Narrator begins to unravel.

Opening on Sonny Grimsley introducing his tale of murder feels very Vincent Price 50’s horror inspired, the dark yet charismatic persona with a charming cadence, setting off immediately the question of whether to trust him. Layered on top of that monologue is some very fitting music (by Joel Pack) which impressively moves from a classical style that you’d naturally expect to find with Poe to a much more modern sound, reflecting horror films today. Those two things working together with a simple, darkened background, keep the focus on the lead as he sets the scene, interlaced with flashes of what’s to come and kick things off on strong form, foreshadowing the blend of classic and modern styles that the film uses throughout.

One of the other things that’s quickly clear is the attention to the importance of setting, a few brief exterior shots of a Victorian meets Gothic house, immediately have that air of horror, like the Bates’ or Amityville house, or even the murder house in the first season of American Horror Story, it strikes fear. The other main set being The Old Man’s (Morris) bedroom, it’s well decorated to reflect the period setting, it’s intimate and almost claustrophobic, which perfectly suits the tone. That attention to detail certainly goes through to the physical effects and make-up work, both of which are an art form that can frequently go underappreciated, particularly the latter, so when done well they make a strong impression, which is what you’ve got here. All of which adds up to the fact that the film has hit the nail on the head with its visuals, including a fantastic dolly zoom shot, a reverse shot disappearing below the floorboards and one particular use of lighting to reflect from a knife that’s particularly enjoyable to watch, it’s aesthetically pleasing from start to finish.

Its intensity is ever growing throughout, building the anticipation of that thrilling breaking point and it’s all set upon the shoulders of Grimsley who must portray The Narrator at his best and worst, both of which he does superbly. With the two versions being nicely overlaid to see both innocent and guilty, you get to see Grimsley’s acting skills at work in a very satisfying way and they only get better as the film nears its end. It’s a performance that’s both composed and unhinged, polite and ravenous. The Old Man doesn’t get too much time to really show Morris’ abilities but it’s a solid performance, while the other supporting actors playing the police officers feel more forced, they’re trying a little too hard, resulting in something that feels slightly wooden.

A great achievement of this adaptation is to simultaneously be influenced by the old-fashioned, classic style that the tale comes from and modern horror films, it makes a fusion of styles that works really well with the story they’re telling. It adds a little jump scares, with some gore to plenty of genuine storytelling, a lot of horror films have struggled with combining them all, either falling short on the story or being afraid to use gore, Lindquist has found a great ratio to fit them all together in a way that capitalises on the different elements and doesn’t let any of them disappear into the background. While there isn’t too much you can alter of Poe’s story without losing its signature style, the choices in direction really amplify its atmosphere in a way that feels fresh, avoiding any potential feeling of repetition with a story that’s now almost 200 years old.

Lindquist’s adaptation feels as though it stays true to the original while throwing in a burst of modern style to bring Poe into the 21st century rather than simply trying to tell its tale in a typical or antiquated manner. His direction, paired with Joseph Olivas’ cinematography, provides a fantastic visual throughout with varied shots of consistently high quality which are wonderful to watch. Grimsley provides an excellently fitting voice and persona to The Narrator, beginning with a refined tone then gradually descending into madness. It comes through strongly in the finished product that a lot of care, attention and dedication has gone into revamping a classic story and giving it a satisfying update without losing any of its original quality, making a fitting tribute to Poe’s work. It’s a thrilling, gripping and visually stunning piece of work.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯½ | 9/10

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