As a medium, horror shorts have to do one hundred times more with one hundred times less than their feature-length counterparts. There is little time to develop characters or set up arcs, and without dynamics, it is often hard to get invested in the story. Viewers usually need a reason to care if someone is in danger. Investment requires time. Shorts don’t have that luxury. They are required to develop a hook that snares its audience immediately. Seldom do short films have the same gut-punching nihilism as Curve.
Tim Egan’s short film Curve opens with an ominous image. A single woman is dangling precariously on the curved ledge of an impossibly curved structure. She has no recollection of how she got there. Who took her and perha[s more importantly what is below her in the gaping dark maw teasing her with its inky blackness. This movie, with zero dialogue, gets under your skin because the danger is so immediate, even if we don’t understand what that danger is. Her fear is terrifying, and the symbolic nature of the structure speaks to an innate fear and emotion in us all.
The short, which clocks in at nine minutes, invokes a feeling of such dread it’s hard not to come away unsettled. It also is the kind of film that begs for dissection for no reason other than to help make sense of the intense visual effect. Here is everything you need to know about Curve and what it all means.
The film opens with an endless mighty ocean crashing wave after wave in the dark. Between these cuts of roiling seas are closeups of a woman with bloodied hands waking up. As she wakes up, she starts to slip down the impossibly shaped structure she is precariously perched on. How she got there or why she is there, we don’t know. Prehistoric screeches occasionally burst forth from below her as if this woman could slide down not into a hole but the gaping maw of an unexplainable creature made of concrete.
To watch Curve is to be terrified with no reason why. It is what dread is in visual form. As scared as the woman is, she calms herself and takes stock of her surroundings. A handhold here, roughened concrete there, you can tell everything to her is a possible lifeline. She is in grave danger, but she isn’t giving up. She gathers her wits, dries her bloody hands on her jacket, and painfully pushes herself higher on the curve. While successful at first, she is alarmed to see a set of bloody handprints on the curved wall across from her. This means others have befallen a similar fate.
She cannot know if they escaped or slid into the void. Each second brings more disembodied handprints and even more frightening screams from below her. The woman sees no one fall though, just ever-growing rows of blood and the anguished cries from unknown people. More and more unseen people fall into the void leaving behind bloodied tracks and cavernous thuds. This is terrifying enough until it begins to rain, making everything slick. In a last-ditch effort to hold on, she wraps a necklace around one of her hands to give her some leverage. She screams in fear and rage as the full picture of the structure is revealed with no one on it.
Did the woman fall, or are the survivors clinging to purchase on the walls invisible to anyone else? Is the abyss sentient? An Eldritch Elder toying with us like the most insignificant of playthings. Is it the allure of the deep that calls us like a moth to a flame or a cosmic misfortune that brings the Deep victims? Many interpretations exist of the woman, the fight for survival, and the structure itself.
Some believe she simply fell into this structure, and the fall caused a concussion resulting in auditory and visual hallucinations. She is in a dangerous position with little hope of climbing out, but everything else from the screams and bloodied tracks are just the visions of a damaged and terrified mind. Others interpret things from a more emotional place. Anxiety induces fight or flight. In this reading of the film, the void is death and the structure is depression. To fall is to give in to the depression and accept death. The rolling waves are the relentless call of time. Time like the sea never stops. Death comes for us all eventually.
It is wildly effective as a metaphor for depression, grief, anxiety, and loneliness. Anyone who has ever felt the pull of depression and the bleak darkness of despair knows it is a constant that can’t be avoided. Fighters cling to their identity and lives with bare-knuckled determination while the void beckons them. Depression can feel like that. You can feel like you are all alone with no way out. Grief can feel endless and all-consuming. The Curve is the same. The nonlinear story has no real beginning or end, just the struggle.
We don’t know whether she fell or was tossed into the Curve, but the result is the same. She has little hope of survival. So the question then becomes, is it better to give in to the inevitable or keep hopelessly fighting? Maybe all the sounds and marks are in her head, and if she just let go, she would slide into a water-filled space and could swim out? It’s doubtful, but that is what faith is, a blind leap.
Unfortunately, she is both horribly far away and very close to safety. An early view of her predicament shows she is just feet away from the ledge if she could only climb up high enough without falling to grasp the edge. To lose purchase on the wall, though, means certain death. Essentially she needs to maintain her grip on the wall to avoid falling, but only by climbing over the wall can she be saved. The curve is her possible executioner and savior.
Curve brilliantly instills dread in anyone who watches. Whether you believe the woman was able to escape or fell to her death depends on your life view. For some, they see her struggle for survival as heroic, and others will see it as pointless. But, of course, it could be both, and maybe the struggle is the point.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.