Review of this extraordinary short neo-giallo first published on EyeforFilm.
“I have sinned again… You cannot stop me. You need me. We need to see them suffer.”
So says the heavy-breathing voice down the phone line to an ageing, bespectacled man (Stephen M Gilbert) who records the words on a small cassette player so he can replay them over and over. “We are one and the same,” the voice now says, re-echoing in the man’s head and ours, “hunters in the night.”
In the neon-lit city depicted in this coolly stylised short film, there is a masked, gloved killer at large, leaving behind few clues besides the bloody bodies of the women upon whom he preys. “It could”, the female reporter on the radio announces, “be anyone”. As director Ryan Haysom cuts between gruesome murder set pieces and sequences of the haunted older man driving through a nocturnal urban landscape, clutching his crucifix, staring obsessively at a homemade crime-scene map, looking at his image split by parallel bathroom mirrors, concealing a claw hammer in his pocket, and playing cat and mouse with a nemesis who may not even be there, we too are made to question just what is the true nature of the crime (or of that rather loaded word, ‘sin’), just who its perpetrator may be and where the real madness lies.
There are the killer’s black gloved hands. There is the ambiguous triangulation of predator, victim and voyeur. There is the Catholic guilt and mother-whore issues (engendering a murderous brand of misogyny). There is the moody synth-driven score by Antoni Maiovvi that sounds as though it was written decades ago. There is the inventive, elliptical cinematography of Haysom’s co-writer Jon Britt – all canted angles, reflective surfaces, chiaroscuro lighting, dog cam, and a syringe’s point of view. There is the prominently visible label of a bottle of J&B Scotch Whisky. And there is the conspicuous absence of digital technology or post-millennial signifiers. Which is to say that, even without its plainly genre-defining title, the lovingly crafted Yellow pays obvious homage to the Italian murder-mystery subgenre from the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties known as giallo (literally, ‘yellow’).
Something, however, about the deadly intensity of the mute central performance and the alienating coolness of the Berlin locations prevents this from slipping into the kind of high-camp hysteria exhibited by recent, genuinely Italian (and jaw-droppingly awful) neo-gialli like Dario Argento’s Giallo (2009) and Federico Zamaglione’s Tulpa (2012). For Yellow is less a degraded travesty than a well-refined quintessence, earning its place – alongside Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s Amer (2009), Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and arguably, Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac (2012) – as a true inheritor of the giallo spirit at its most distilled.
Haysom, however, does not restrict himself to the giallo palette, but also models part of his first murder scene on the notorious eye slicing from Luis Buñuel’s still-shocking black-and-white short Un Chien Andalou (1929), while borrowing some sleek blues from Michael Mann in general and from the thematically similar Manhunter (1986) in particular.
The result is an astonishing and compelling assemblage of contradictions: it is messy yet controlled; enigmatic and elliptical yet clean and crystal-clear; and it casts a modern eye back on the old school. It may be a product of crowd funding, but the elegant precision and abiding ambiguity of Yellow should make many filmmakers operating with much bigger budgets turn green. Berlin-based Brits Haysom and Britt are already collaborating once again on their debut feature – a prospect which, going by the strength of this shorter film, can only be met with excited anticipation.
© Anton Bitel