The Dutch short film The Burden (Het Juk) proves that the classic set-ups of a creepy backstory and a flashlight beam slowly moving around a dark attic are still effective horror cinema elements. Writer/director Nico van den Brink’s 15-minute chiller offers up a superb terror tale that keeps viewers guessing.
Ciska (Hanna van Vliet) is a young woman visiting the childhood home of her boyfriend Pascal (Kay Greidanus) to meet his father and brothers as they commemorate Pascal’s grandfather. From the beginning, neighbor Esther (Ilke Paddenburg), labeled as a weirdo by both Ciska and Pascal, seems to keep a constant eye on Ciska, even during the late night. Pascal tells her a scary story about when he and Esther were children, but then says that he just made the tale up to scare Ciska for fun. When Ciska has trouble sleeping that night, Pascal suggests they go to the attic so she can see that nothing is there.
Although The Burden has a fair share of spooky moments before that attic visit, it is during that scene that business really picks up, as seasoned fright fare fans might guess. Van den Brink is obviously familiar with the horror genre, as evidenced by the short’s opening set-up, its well-timed pacing and blend of occasional humor for comic relief between its startling set pieces, and the building up of mesmerizing tension. A deft hand at helming drama is also important for successful horror cinema, and van der Brink shows that he is up to the task, building fleshed-out characters worth audience investment in them and their outcomes.
Van Vliet and Greidanus have a natural chemistry together that works wonderfully in their believability as a couple, and the supporting cast is solid, too, sometimes speaking volumes in a mere gesture or a short utterance. Emo Weemhoff’s splendid cinematography often puts viewers in the thick of things, weaving around the characters and moving around the house — especially that attic! — but also settles in with static shots for eerie effect.
The Burden pays new dividends with a second watch. Now on its film festival run, it is highly recommended.
The Burden screened at Fantasia 2019, which ran in Montreal from July 11-August 1.(4 / 5)