The Tell Tale Heart is one of Edgar Allen Poe’s best known, most revered tales. It is considered a classic of the Gothic genre, told by a master of that genre. Utilising the idea of the unreliable narrator (maybe one of the first in literature?) to its full extent and awash with the kind of gory, poetic detail Poe was known for, it lends itself well to the medium of film and has been adapted by just about everything from radio murder mysteries to The Simpsons to Spongebob Squarepants.
Here, we have a new take: a punky, blood-spattered thrill ride from McClain Lindquist, whose debut short brings something quite new to the story, while also staying true to the dark, Gothic brutality of Poe’s original work.
Madness and Mockery
The story is told through an unnamed narrator who is trying his best to convince the viewer of his sanity while describing the details of the brutal descent into madness that lead to the death of an old man – whose relationship to the narrator is never explained. Any adaptation of this story would live or die on the strength of that narrator’s performance and to its credit, The Tell Tale Heart has an engaging, lively performance from Sonny Grimsley – chewing the scenery with such an infectious madness it’s easy to imagine he had a lot of fun in this role.
Grimsley really – and rightfully – is the scene-stealer here, gleefully expounding Poe‘s words in a mock-Tudor accent with a twisted smile on his face and devilish eyes. It’s an important anchor, because The Tell Tale Heart has no interest in chronological storytelling. Here, Lindquist has gone abstract, imbuing his version with whip-quick transitions and layovers which emphasise the strange madness taking place.
It’s a fun, jumpy ride through the old mansion; the audience is barely given time to digest one scene and its implications before we’re off to the next. In one scene our narrator is grimly regaling us from a dark room, only the barest of outlines visible, the next second we’re in an old man’s bedroom watching him sleep – bloodsoaked images streaking across the screen, the ‘vulture eye’ which drives the narrator mad containing a world of anguish inside. It’s done very well, and has the heart racing (no pun intended).
A Bizarre World
The madness cranks up as the story propels forward to its inevitable outcome; two police officers arrive on the scene to interrogate the narrator and cleverly the interrogation takes place in multiple locations, adding to the bizarre sense of confusion. The sets are excellent, emphasising Poe’s Gothic style while also evoking a slightly more modern tinge in some aspects. This duality also adds to the atmosphere of confusion; what is real and what isn’t? Special mention should also go to the old man’s make-up, which is something akin to a Jim Henson creation if it were commissioned by Roald Dahl. It is at once unnerving and repulsive, but somehow adds well to the tone being struck here.
The Tell Tale Heart only really has one performance once mentioning, which is that of the narrator. Both police officers and the old man get very little in the way of dialogue; however, what dialogue the police officers do get is somewhat squandered. Mikah Olsen goes for gruff noir and mostly misses the mark, while Teren Turner should have been given more to do as she proves to be the more natural of the two. That said, both actors were lost in the shadow of Grimsley‘s madcap performance in any case but manage to stay afloat in the madness.
Finally, the main set location inside the mansion is excellent – the lighting gives off a creepy, surreal vibe and the exterior shots show the kind of grand, dark abode Poe himself may very well have imagined when he began writing the story himself.
The Tell Tale Heart: Conclusion
Lindquist is, by trade, an undertaker whose love of the horror genre and Poe’s work propelled him to this adaptation. His vision was to do justice to Poe’s story, to create a world worthy of the master himself. With this, it’s safe to say he’s off to a very good start. It’ll be very interesting to see what he comes up with next.
The Telltale Heart is one of the most beloved of the Gothic genre. What’s your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!
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