Elizabeth Van Helsing, directed by Tyler Hamblin, is an interesting exploration into the horror genre, combining several horror stories into one dramatic film. It explores psychological themes and the occult, witnessing the sinister actions of demons preying upon the souls of men, stalking them, and ensnaring their minds. Its combination of exquisite cinematography with sinister storytelling makes it a stand out feature of the KTV Film Festival.

Without revealing the film’s plot in great depth, the story is simple enough to understand and is equally chilling as a basic concept. The story is a new adaption of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and other horror classics, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The story begins with Elizabeth Van Helsing (portrayed by Millie Carpenter), the great-great granddaughter of the iconic Doctor Abraham Van Helsing, who as a recent graduate has had remarkable success as a journalist, specialising in paranormal research. Due to her success, students from the media centre call her back to their university to do an interview. As a result, she meets Rachel Collier (played by Conchita Mbuyambo), a student who later that night is plagued by nightmares and begins to be ‘stalked’ (not ‘haunted’, as the film purposefully points out) by a demon with sinister intentions. From this point on, Elizabeth comes to help and the two must face whatever paranormal anomaly lingers.

The narrative structure and storytelling is almost perfect. The plot’s slow progression towards the beginning helps the audience feel mystified and tense. The panic and confusion Rachels feels as she delves into the recesses of her own mind are accurately portrayed by exquisite cinematography and menacing music. All the storytelling is delivered through these initial stages with very little exposition, or obvious signposting. As a result, the audience is very much placed in Rachel’s shoes, and can engage with the story easily, discovering the world piece by piece whilst feeling the same emotions that the characters engage with.

As the film progresses, this characterisation and tone continues with only slight deviations into continuity errors. On occasion, the characters actively defy logical reactions in the scenes, something that horror films are often criticised for. The best example one can offer is from the scene based in the park, as Rachel explains her nightmares to her friend Becky. The demon who has begun ‘stalking’ her sits leisurely, only slightly out of focus, on a bench in the background and Rachel explains she can see him in her awakened state. Neither Rachel nor her friend seem even mildly concerned about its presence. Understandably, the friend who doesn’t see the demon and hasn’t experienced such nightmares would have no fear; but logically Rachel, who has just recently been tormented by this same demon, casually notes his appearance close by, and then departs to walk alone to her seminar. Not to question her emotional resilience, but surely we should act more cautiously in such as scenario? Although this is only a minor issue, it does draw the audience away from the film’s plot and brings them to question the character’s motives.

Aside from these minor character inconsistencies, the cinematography and soundtrack for this film are wonderful executed. The dream state, with its glitchy design and ominous music, creates a sense of dread which is felt by both the characters and the audience alike. The transitions between scenes seem fluid; the cameras movement and position give the imagery a polished and professional look, and the details such as the blurry effects and the momentary appearances of the demon really lends to the psychological terror of the movie. The audience never feels entirely secure: they are always on edge.

The lower and darker tones, with the score tailored to each scene, help to develop the rich environment and the emotions felt, and the music is used effectively to portray the movie’s themes. During a later scene when Elizabeth and Rachel both attempt to summon the demon, the music plays dramatic and heavy notes which evoke a religious atmosphere. The notes sound like monastic chanting, with their pitch manipulated to a lower octave to convey a sinister feeling, drawing forth images of cult activities and satanic worship. Similar moments are riddled throughout the movie and add to the overall performance.

Elizabeth Van Helsing is a brilliant example of a psychological horror. For a student film, the polish of the production is impressive, and the brilliant storytelling and character design really help the film standout. The sound design enhances the sinister tone of the material and helps to explore the themes in greater depth. Although Inquire does not do ratings, Hamblin and crew’s film easily achieves top marks and should be held up as an example of good film-making.