The Tell-Tale Heart
by Laura Shoplas
It’s the beating of that hideous heart!
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Just as there are countless flopped film adaptations of novels, a CG attempt of the timeless short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, runs into equal troubles. Despite The Simpsons and SpongeBob’s effective parodies, supposedly there have been 20 film or television versions of Poe’s psychological thriller— none apparently memorable. Regardless, Swertfager’s trailer is intriguing but also unconvincing.
Most folks are familiar with The Tell-Tale Heart: a narrator explains his slaughter of his elderly order because the old man’s cloudy, blue eye severely perturbs the protagonist. After he suffocates the old man with his own mattress, he mutilates the body and hides the limbs underneath the floorboards. Suffice to say, he is quite satisfied with his work.
Even when three policemen unexpectedly arrive at the protagonist’s door, he calmly invites them in, believing his composure will give them no reason to suspect him. Furthermore, he sits his guests directly above the exact floorboards which the dismantled body lies underneath; as the conversation ensues, the protagonist hears a low thump that crescendos into a deafening pulsation. Ultimately, since the intensity of the heartbeat overpowers him, the protagonist confesses the murder and proclaims to rip up the floorboards and disinter the body.
In comparison, Swertfager’s short begins with the protagonist walking down an eerie hallway to answer the door; he greets two policemen who inquire about a shriek overheard by a neighbor. While he narrates his fictional account to the police, the protagonist mentally recalls the murder. After he invites the policemen inside, a quick montage of details surrounding the murder plays— including a split second image of the eye that haunts the protagonist so profoundly. Lastly, you see the protagonist sitting in jail as he declares, “You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing.”
Appropriately, you may feel cynical about how a filmmaker would portray this incredible tale of conscience. It is extremely ambitious for anyone to tackle such a classic thriller especially in a five minute short. Hence, Swertfager only captures a fraction of Poe’s intention.
Particularly, Poe claims although everyone appears to be balanced, everyone also has a button that if pushed may lead to lunacy; for the narrator, it’s the old man’s foggy, blue eye. Keeping in mind Swertfager’s version is only a short, it’s still frustrating to witness such carelessness concerning the eye and its symbolism. Consequently, the protagonist appears simply insane with no motive. Poe’s narrator was mad, yet the old man’s eye was clearly his own rationalization of what caused him to kill, which is only alluded to in the quick montage.
However, Poe tries to show that a short story can produce an effect on the reader, and this trailer certainly evokes emotion through visual and sound effects. The protagonist’s frightening physical looks and creepy mannerisms depict the image Poe creates. In addition, the voyeuristic flashback to the actual murder stirs up much distress; the protagonist hacks the body into pieces, and as the axe strikes the body, the camera jerks simultaneously. On top of that, throw in an unsettling thud, and Swertfager surely creates an uneasy climate. The cleverness in this scene is Swertfager’s ability to establish a disturbing reaction without displaying the bloodstained body or gory clutter that many filmmakers use in efforts to traumatize their audience.
On the other hand, whereas certain aspects seem extremely disturbing, Swertfager also uses aesthetics making his short feel like a children’s film. The narrator sounds sinister, however, he’s analogous to any Disney picture’s villains. Moreover, the Policemen’s voices are viewed as cute or comical since they are reminiscent of voices from SpongeBob or even Veggie Tales. It’s safe to assume that Poe probably does not want “cute” characters involved in his thriller since they strip away much of the short story’s dark mood.
That being said, evoking such a disconcerting tone paired with childish aesthetics brings up the question, who is this CG trailer aimed towards? It’s definitely too distressing for kids, but too inane for adults. This contradiction leaves you more confused than interested. The only group of people you can imagine being reeled in are literary buffs who are intrigued to see Poe’s work. Still, because Swertfager’s short doesn’t accurately portray Poe’s short story, this demographic will most likely scorn this interpretation for its literary blunders.
Ultimately, the hook is there, but who is it aiming towards and is it strong enough? As much as you are mystified by some of Swertfager’s choices, he appears to be just as puzzled. Swertfager’s version looks to be unmemorable; therefore, sadly, The Tell-Tale Heart may now have 21 forgettable attempts.
Laura Shoplas is a reviewer in Chicago, IL.
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