[“Blame It On Toby” is just one of the horror shorts from my “7 Halloween Shorts for 2020” post. To view the other shorts, head over to THIS post!]
I really enjoyed “The Quiet Room”! Rather than continue to rely on classic horror tropes, writer/director Sam Wineman has created a NEW horror legend: Hopeless Hattie (portrayed by Alaska Thunderfuck) who haunts the quiet room at the psych ward. Naturally, Hattie loves her boyfriends and won’t share with anyone else after she has claimed someone. What unfolds in this short horror film is classic horror thriller, scaring us with quick glimpses of Hattie as people start dying from “accidents”. We’re kept on the edge of our seat waiting to see what will happen next – and the result does not disappoint! This short is a definitely must-watch if you want a good spooky queer horror film! Let’s break down why it’s so good.
Synopsis of “The Quiet Room”
Michael (Jamal Douglas) is sorting pills on the counter, starts to write something on a notepad but stops – suddenly Michael grabs a handful of random pills and downs them. Blackout. We hear a woman calling out his name, and a freaky claw hand draws against a door… slowly Michael wakes up. He’s in the psych ward after surviving his suicide attempt. After meandering to the lounge, he meets some of the other patients, Rachel (Barkley Harper), Joe (Chris Salvatore), and Hunter (Kit Williamson). They ask if he’s heard the screams yet; the screams of “Hattie” who haunts the quiet room. Joe mentions that she doesn’t like water, so leave a cup beside his bed. Michael doesn’t believe them, but still leaves a cup of water that night. It’s knocked over Michael hears screams. Is something/someone is holding Michael in bed?
The next day, Hunter starts to flirt with Michael; that night, he created an excuse of rats in his room and was permitted to bunk up with Michael. While they chat in their beds, we learn about the legend of Hattie and how she loves guys who attempted suicide – but it’s the suicide notes that keep her at bay. (Michael didn’t leave one!) Hunter also reveals that Hattie gets jealous when other guys take her boyfriends. Later in the shower, Michael panics and ends up cutting the back of his head on the shower head after seeing Hattie behind him. But David (Brian McCook), one of the ward’s staff, only sees another injury attempt. It becomes clear that Hattie has taken a liking to Michael, as she slips into his dream later that night.
Meanwhile one of the staff members, Judy (Stephanie Kerbis), not only helps Michael finish the paperwork which allows him to wear his own clothes again, but also provides a notebook for Michael to write in. But Michael “knows” the tactics she’s using on him and calls her out. But later that night is when things start to fall apart. After an emotional talk about how Michael “killed” his former lover, Ben, because of a winter hiking accident… Hunter consoles Michael, which leads to them making out and presumably more. But then Michael wakes up in bed alone, but Hunter isn’t in his bed. Instead, Michael finds Hunter slumped on the floor of their bathroom – dead, wrists slashed and bleeding. The pysch unit staff come after hearing the cries for help, but when Michael tries to resist they drag and lock him in the quiet room for the night. “Come here, Michael”, Hattie taunts.
The next day, Judy is talking to Michael about Hunters suicide – but when refuses to accept or believe him when Michael claims that Hattie killed Hunter. Then a razor blade falls out of Michaels clothes… Judy panics and starts to call for help but Michael spies Hattie crawling out for the corner of the ceiling; Judy cannot see Hattie. When David comes in to assist, Hattie snaps his neck killing him in front of Judy who still cannot see what is attacking them all. But when Hattie breaks Judy’s leg, she realises that there really is a demon as Michael bolts out of the room to get help. But Michael cannot hide from Hattie; Nor does Hattie allow Judy, who has crawled to the unit doors despite bleeding out along the hall floor, to live. Michael returns to the quiet room ready to surrender to Hattie: “I give up – I’m yours” he claims while tenderly embracing Hattie.
But the other patients try to rescue Michael from Hattie by using a lighter to turn on the sprinkler system. Together, they lock Hattie into the quiet room and bolt for the main door of the unit to escape themselves. But as soon as Joe and Rachel run though the doors, Michael closes and locks them out. Suddenly, Hattie is right behind Michael – and she’s pissed! But when Michael pulls out the the notebook Judy gave him, he quickly writes a suicide note and shoves it at Hattie causing Hattie to finally crumple up on the floor and die. Suddenly the lights in the hospital come back on as we fade to white. After some time, Michael, Joe, and Rachel are hanging outside in a backyard. It’s clear that they’re all out of the psych ward, but a look of terror comes across Michael’s face when he sees water start to run out of the garden hose…
Good horror films require a handful of things in order to work. They need a strong script, excellent acting, and a great blend of cinematography/editing and the actual spooky bit. “The Quiet Room” has all of that and as such, it’s clear why this queer short horror film has won awards! But first up – we have quite a queer cast – and they’re all talented and captivating! (And great to look at!) Jamal Douglas, who portrays Michael, is not only black but openly bisexual; Kit Williamson (of “EastSiders” fame) is openly gay; Chris Salvatore (of “Eating Out” saga’s fame) Brian McCook is also openly gay, but better known as Katya Zamolodchikova; and our final queer cast is Alaska Thundefuck, winner of RuPaul’s All Stars Season 2. But hold up – let’s not forget the horror legend herself: Lisa Wilcox from Nightmare on Elm Street 4 & 5! I LOVED all of their acting. Characters felt real, attached and the connection among them all worked beautifully. I especially loved the flirtatious budding relationship between Michael and Hunter; showing that even in the middle of a psych ward you can find romance.
Another shining element of “The Quiet Room” is the script itself. Written by Sam Wineman, the plot follows a rather standard storyline for horror: a demon haunts a psych ward that only the patients can hear/see. But the bright new twist Sam brings to the horror genre is a NEW urban legand! In an interview as part of the Out on Film “Horror Shorts for Halloween” festival, he mentions that rather than reuse existing urban legends – they created the legend of “Hattie”. And she’s a fully fleshed out character; haunting with that hint of urban legend feel. But the other strong point of the script is that we get fleshed out characters. Even though “The Quiet Room” is a short film, we don’t sacrifice character building moments because of the short time. Rather, it’s nicely balanced.
But the killer aspect that brings it all together is the cinematographic aspects. Horror is a specific niche with some rather crucial elements like editing, sound, and special effects. This short has all of that. While Kaitlin Hollingsworth is credited for the editing, writer/director Sam Wineman lead the sudden back and forth editing that allows a film to show a demon like Hattie in one quick flash, but then cut back to the same scene where the others cannot see her. It requires additional takes and a smooth editing to be able to cut back and forth. The set equally is important. Sam Wineman lucked out and was able to find an abandoned (and reportedly HAUNTED!!!) hospital to bring this film to life. Yet the crucial part of a horror film is the demon itself; and Alaska Thunderfuck is amazingly freaky and gruesome as Hattie. She already is known for the extreme and weird, and was perfectly cast to create a demon.
Sam Wineman recalls in an interview that he had a tough time bringing “The Quiet Room” to the festival circuit. For queer festivals – it was “too horror”; for horror festivals – it was “too queer”. Thankfully, he persevered and as the awards racked up, he has helped bring queer horror to a new level. It’s a great film that WILL give you a fright. Go give it a watch – but hold onto your popcorn!
Queer Relevance of “The Quiet Room”
This horror short is queer in a handful of ways. Our leading man, Michael, is obviously gay since he not only has a thing with Hunter but Hattie only goes after the gay boys. Adding Hunter and Joe to the gay roll call, we’re relevant! But we also have a gay demon: Hopeless Hattie! (Not this actually is not the first gay ghoul/ghost that we have seen in Queer film, but hey – representation is representation , right?)Lastly, we have an appearance but not one, but TWO of RuPaul’s queens! Alaska Thunderfuck plays Hattie and Brian McCook (Katya Zamolodchikova)also makes an appearance (though out of drag).