[Review] PEAKING [Portland Horror Film Festival]: Aural Horrors Await a Sound Recordist

Director Daniel Rands’ U.K. horror short Peaking relies heavily on sound design to get its eerie atmosphere across. It does so quite impressively, resulting in a 7-minute shocker fraught with tension.

After Sound Recordist Sandy (Louisa Harris) overhears one of her colleagues making a sexist remark about her, she stays behind in the house where they are filming to continue checking room sound while the rest of the crew goes out for drinks. She should have joined her colleagues. Something is interfering with Sandy’s sound equipment — or perhaps it might be more proper to say that that something is using her equipment to lure her to whatever it might be.

With Peaking’s aural emphasis, Sound Designer Hannah Smith and Sound Recordist Kathryn Maccorgarry Gray (who cowrote the screenplay with Rands) carry a great deal of the short film on their shoulders, and they deliver marvelously. The sound design warrants and rewards constant attention, and delivers some surprises when combined with visual sequences. Savannah Phaophanit’s creepy score adds to the discomposing feel of the proceedings.

The visual aspects of Peaking deliver terrifically, too. Toby Lloyd’s cinematography keeps viewers in extreme close-ups with Sandy, her expressions, and her equipment. Harris does a wonderful job as the curious sound recordist who is determined to find out what is behind the strange sounds and odd occurrences she is witnessing. She shows a fine range of expressions in her almost wordless performance. Rands ratchets up the apprehension superbly, and he uses a color palette of mostly cool blues with a jarring change at the climax.

Viewers looking for blood and gore or an array of visual effects may come away from Peaking disappointed, but those who appreciate a nice slow-burn rise in suspense and a unique approach to supernatural storytelling should find plenty to enjoy.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Peaking screens as part of Portland Horror Film Festival’s 2021 hybrid edition, which runs July 28–August 5, 2021 in Portland, Oregon at the Hollywood Theatre and online nationwide.  For more information, visit https://portlandhorrorfilmfestival.com.

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.