“Agatha” (2016): Terror Awaits a Young Orphan at the Top of the Staircase


If classic horror stories featuring creaking stairs, shadowy rooms in old mansions, and the occasional thunderstorm to help set the mood are your style of fright film, I can’t recommend writer/director Timothy Vandenberg’s exercise in eeriness Agatha enough. This short films absolutely drips with atmosphere and the performance by young star Louise Ogle is marvelous.

Young, scruffy orphan Sophie (Louise Ogle) is hired by a matronly woman (Penny Kohut) to bring food to the titular character (Jessica Farmer), who resides in the room at the top of the stairs. In the opening scene, the woman gives instructions to Sophie to which the little girl must strictly adhere. This is the only dialogue in the film, and it hints at the perils that might await our young heroine. Ogle is wonderful in this scene, darting her eyes around the room as the instructions become more urgent. She continues to impress throughout, as her curiosity turns to fear.

Orphan girl Sophie (Louise Ogle) takes on a disturbing job for a mere pittance in the atmospheric chiller Agatha.

Timothy Vandenberg masterfully turns up the tension throughout the short as he simultaneously creates a permeating sense of dread and gloom, starting with Sophie’s first trip up the stairs and into the part of Agatha’s room in which she is allowed to go. Suffice it to say that I would not have made that trip a second time if I were in her shoes, but make it again she does, with the promise of a few pennies at the end of each completed trip.

There’s a sense of the good old-fashioned macabre at play in Agatha, from the curious photo shown during the opening sequence to the food that Sophie delivers every day, to the downright creepiness of Agatha’s bedroom and the mystery surrounding it. Timothy Vandenberg has built a claustrophobic little world with a strict set of rules, and in doing so has created a chilling short that is absolutely mesmerizing. He is aided by cinematographer Bo Webb, whose work is outstanding; sound designer Diego Jimenez, who knows how to send chills up the spines of viewers; and creature effects artist Tony Rosen, whose creations I cannot say much about here for the sake of keeping surprises, but he has delivered some truly hair-raising work.

From its chilling opening to its bristling final images, period piece Agatha is a superb slice of horror cinema. Its haunting imagery and gripping story is bound to stay with you long after the end credits roll.

Agatha: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.