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Review: Mass Grave Pictures’ “Matryoshka”

Thank god for spellcheck because there’s no way I’d repeatedly type Matryoshka and not completely screw it up. Anyway, Mass Grave Pictures and Dark Tales from Channel X are back with a new short film titled… Matryoshka (you can do this, Michael). I’ve seen a lot of projects from the combined talents of Manny Serrano and Lindsay Serrano, and I have to say that Matryoshka is hands-down the best thing I’ve seen from them so far. It’s original, it’s suspenseful and it has the capability to spawn a whole series if those working behind-the-scenes wanted to. While no film festival premiere has been announced yet, I can see this title catching the eye of a Hollywood executive and potentially being bought into a new blockbuster franchise. Written by Manen Lyset, Manny Serrano and Lindsay Serrano, Matryoshka finds a group of friends coming together for a somewhat awkward Halloween party. When one of their own finds an old Matroyshka doll in the apartment, the group decides to play a centuries old, turn-based rhyming game called “The Nesting Game.” A chance at old Russian fun becomes a gnarly disaster when the old poem unleashes something more deadly than expected. Directed by Manny Serrano (Blood Slaughter Massacre, Theta States), this ten minute mini-movie stars Angie Hansen, Diana Porter, Jose Torres, Deana Demko, Scott Gorbach and Taurus Smith.

When I started my viewing of this Halloween themed short film, I expected the doll to come to life like Child’s Play, Goosebumps and Trilogy of Terror. Instead, Manny Serrano takes it in a more Annabelle type of route, where an evil entity is attached to the doll but not actively working through the vessel. It was a smart twist in the story and, again, a clever way to make room for further installments if a series follows. Also, with this in place, the suspense is allowed to grow in a fluid way and the macabre surprises pulse with intensity. Matroyshka is a slow-burning horror film, but the ending is well worth the pay-off. And, it’s important to note when film-makers step their game up, especially in the world of independent horror. Besides a short shot in the hallway of the apartment building, the scenes in Matroyshka are some of the cleanest work to come out of a Mass Grave Pictures title. Cinematographer Philip Kral and everyone working behind-the-scenes really put their best foot forward and came out with a project that looks far from low budget. Just really good camera work, with quality that always matches the same standards as their audio levels (yal never mess that up). These accomplishments were fueled by the contributions from Manen Lyset, Brandon Boone and Phil Michalski – all from the NoSleep Podcast – and they all created lightning in a bottle.

Matroyshka is also Manny Serrano’s first attempt at horror-comedy, if I remember correctly. I know other reviewers turn their nose up at movies, especially short films, with more than one screenwriter, but it worked in this case. I already mentioned that I loved the flow and progression of Matryoshka, but I loved the jabs, quips, puns and overall silly comedic bits that were used sparingly. It’s typical that film-makers go overboard when mixing horror and comedy, but again, it just worked here. Adult parties are so much better because drunk adults get more vindictive and oblivious than kids (they just drink until they throw up and then pass out), this was the perfect environment for these horror writers to let their funny sides shine. My favorite part, though, was the special effects. Massive props to Beatrice Sniper and Jason Peterson. The effect used at the end of Matryoshka was pulled off with such professionalism and brutality that it sends this flick several notches up the indie hierarchy. I’m going to take a gamble and put my name on the line that Matryoshka is going to win a ton of awards for “Best Special Effects” and damnit if yal don’t deserve that recognition. I wasn’t expecting a lot from a mini movie about an old Russian toy, a woman in a hot dog costume, and a Halloween party in March, but the entire cast and crew hit a home run.

Matroyshka is already one of my favorite horror short films of 2019 so far. Well done. Final Score: 8.5 out of 10.

Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)