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 / 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.