(Very) Short Film Review: Dining Room or There is Nothing

Haunting2
A still from the (very) short film.

Browsing the subreddit r/horror last night, I came across perhaps the most effective (very) short horror film I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s literally 67 seconds, and it’s horrifying. I’m being dead serious. I watched this at 8:50 a.m. in the daylight on Saturday, and I was genuinely creeped out. Before I say more, check it out:

The video is by David B. Earle, who posted it to YouTube in the early days of the media platform in 2006. It’s received millions of downloads, and naturally, 14 years later has become something of a comedic meme. Earle seems to be an overall artistic, creative guru. You can learn more about him here.

Before I get to what Earle himself says about the film (it’s rather explicit), I had some musings of my own based purely on watching the 67-second film, as well as reading some of the feedback from the subreddit.

Something about the way she talks, the loud music, the sound of the fire, the way she moves, that clonk noise when she hits the bowl, and the overall aesthetic of the gray skin tone and the dining room, which looks like something out of a 1970s horror film, is so well-done and effective. It’s a visceral horror gut punch.

I am in awe, to be honest. From reading about the film, my thinking is that the beginning is backmasking speech, a recording technique where you record a sound or message backward onto a track that is meant to be played forward, according to Wikipedia. So the beginning the woman says, “There is nothing,” but it’s backwards and almost sounds like Latin or some other “talking in tongues” out of Hell type speech? And then at the end, she says it forward, “There is nothing.” In fact, from what I’m reading, perhaps the whole thing is played backward to forward? That’s why when her head comes back up out of the bowl, it has that glitch to it?

I’m telling you, that clonk into the bowl is going to haunt me. The way it then starts panning backward, as if we’re dining with her on the opposite end of the table, and the flames shoot up. Are we in Hell? Is that what’s going on? Some have said it’s depicting the incomprehensibility and nothingness of hell, and perhaps, the meaningless of it all in terms of endless repetition (the backward and forward aspect). That makes sense as an interpretation.

Also, the title could be literal: there is nothing; there is no afterlife.

At about the 38 or so second mark, there seems to be screaming voices in the background, as if we are in Hell, and those are demons? It sounds like someone being tortured.

For those who aren’t into horror movies (and maybe even some who are), they might think this (very) short film is silly. But I’m completely stunned by it.

To be clear, I’m not saying this is some masterpiece of filmmaking. I’m saying, for a (very) short film in the horror genre to be able to be creepy in that amount of time is a job well-done. Horror is one of those genres that takes time to build the suspense, tension and horror, but this managed to creep me out by the end of its 67 seconds.

As to what Earle said about it, he said when looping the film like this, there is no actual beginning or end, and no real send of where the beginning and end actually are.

“This piece was inspired by a personal paradoxical desire for empirical proof that there is nothing on the ‘other’ side of life. I wanted to blur the distinction between the two states, and to state the paradox by showing someone who is coming back from life (or death), and denies its existence, thereby fulfilling the paradox,” – David B. Earle, the filmmaker

Is the paradox that, if I die, but am alive in Hell, I would think it’s the same as here, thus, when coming to “here,” I would deny an afterlife exists because the two realities seem the same, and vice versa? Or more simply, I suppose there is an inherent paradox in trying to empirically prove that nothing exists. In other words, how do you go into a state of nothing, come back, and say, “Hey, that nothing … doesn’t exist.” But it does because you were in that state of nothing.

Now my brain hurts.

What do you think of this? Horror, like comedy, is a completely subjective genre, obviously. What creeps someone out may be a, “Meh,” for someone else. I get that. For me, this worked on all levels. For others, it won’t. Even the subreddit I found this in is completely divided on whether this is horrific or not. I know which camp I fall into.

Some are relegating it to, “Eh, this is just born out of the early days of YouTube when there were a lot of creepy videos. That’s it, nothing more.” Call it what you will (and creepy is still horror), but I like it.

Haunting3
A still from the (very) short film.

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