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Review: Jonathan Cuartas’ The Horse and the Stag

I don’t think The Horse and the Stag is the best horror picture out there, however, it’s certainly one of the best short films produced this year when looked at on a broader scale. Moody, dark, deeply disturbing and yet oddly compelling. Writer/Director Jonathan Cuartas knocked it out of the park with this project, and his 90’s styled psychological drama quickly establishes him as one of the film-makers to watch out for. Imagine that you wake up chained to a couch in an unfamiliar trailer’s living room. That’s where viewers find Carson (played by Ian Lerch) when The Horse and the Stag opens. He’s trapped and held hostage as an unstable woman, Edith (played by Amy Hoerler), bounces between sympathy and exterior torture. Chicken tenders and dipping sauce quickly turns to golden showers and abuse, and it becomes obvious to Carson that something is going on at the other end of the trailer, and it’s driving Edith insane. But what lurks behind the curtain to the other room? Produced by Jonathan Cuartas, Michael Cuartas, Anthony Pedone and co-producer Kenny Riches, The Horse and the Stag is an impactful, suspenseful, horrific short film, and it achieves this narrative with expert stealth and execution.

The more I think about The Horse and the Stag, the more I think, “Damn, that was great.” This is true, independent film-making at its best, and this short’s ability to transcend genre troupes is going to make it an easy, award winning, fan favorite in the film festival circuit; which is timely considering Jonathan Cuartas’ title just premiered at Popcorn Frights Film Festival this past Wednesday. The Horse and the Stag is a slow burner that starts off like most average torture flicks do, but then it diverges into different territory and becomes a beast of emotion, reflection and unspeakable trauma. And it’s ominous and mysterious as fuck. There’s so many questions including, “Why isn’t Ian screaming for help?” “Is someone living in the trailer with them?” “How can Ian get out of this one?” From start to finish, The Horse and the Stag will have you glued to the screen, whether it’s a theater showing or a viewing on your computer. Of course, the best part of this is that you get all of these answers and more in ten minutes. Featuring cinematography by Michael Cuartas and editing by Jonathan Cuartas, The Horse and the Stag is a cohesive piece of cinema that gives you an entire feature’s worth of depth in a short amount of time.

When I look for negatives, I honestly can’t find any. Ian Lerch and Amy Hoerler deliver award winning performances and were absolutely the right actors for this job. The production and editing is flawless, and I enjoyed the pale quality of film. Really, my only gripe lies with the underlying story that’s slightly open to interpretation. This isn’t a terrible obstacle either, considering it can get an audience talking and lead to a small discussion, as it did with me and one of this film’s producers. So, I’ll say this. Pay attention to the dialogue. Pay attention to the cues. Pay attention to the pain. I know there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on, but The Horse and the Stag is a smart, hybrid thriller that begs you to read between the lines. Who knows, maybe you’ll understand the big reveal quicker than I did! Still, I was incredibly impressed with this short film and I have no doubt it will end up somewhere on my yearly highlight post. I have never seen horror, drama, and psychological elements woven so perfectly together as I did in The Horse and the Stag. If you have the chance to see it a film festival near you – run there!

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)

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