Greetings from the Underground!
Psychopomp, in Greek mythology, is a spiritual entity who helps escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. It does not serve as a judge but rather as a guide. It is also a major character in the indie horror film from Danny Villanueva Jr. called I Dream of a Psychopomp. In this anthology film, a widower is haunted by the spirit of his recently deceased wife. When he sleeps, he is visited by a Psychopomp in his dreams. The Psychopomp tells a series of stories to the widower about the spirit world and how important it is to guide a soul to its proper place in the afterlife.
Danny Villanueva Jr really impressed me with his first short film Don’t Cry, Papa and he impressed me again with I Dream of a Psychopomp.He interweaves the stories in this anthology seamlessly. All of the stories maintained the same dark undercurrent but also were unique to each other. These are not jump-scare and gore filled horror stories. Instead, horror is the tool that is used to look at different aspects of how we either can’t let go or can’t face the inevitable.
The wraparound story involving the widower is definitely a heartbreaking one. Kulani Kai and Elohim Peña play Evelyn and Kerry Reynosa. These two are the heart of the film. The performances by both actors, not only grounds this story but helps take the viewer on an emotional journey. There is a key scene between these two in a cemetery that was particularly powerful.
It is hard to talk about the standalone stories without spoiling them. They are all directed well and tightly edited. The first story centers around how a student named Caroline, who deals with a major tragedy at her school that occurred just days before a Halloween dance. The audience is kept guessing as to what actually occurred at the school until the final minute or two. Then you are hit with a one-two gut punch. One punch from the realization of what happened and one punch from Fiona Rose’s Caroline as reality sets in.
The second story is about a special consultant helping the police get a confession out of a man suspected of abducting and killing a child. I did not see the twist coming for this one. Peter Knox really put his all into the suspect Carl, and it pays off. The back and forth he has with N. Meridian’s Deena Swan was intense. It helped to distract the viewer from what was really going on.
The third story involves a young girl seeking out a man with an ability that could help her out of a dire situation. Ben Shaul really stands out in this role. You can tell he is an individual who has grown exhausted with his life through Shaul’s mannerisms and line delivery. Jillian Lebling makes you feel her desperate need for help. I found myself as torn as she is with the decision she finally has to make.
The cinematography was fantastic. The shots during the dance sequence in the first story and the opening shots in the second story were especially captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed the subtle use of the color purple in the segments. The wraparound is obvious to the significance of the color, but to have it show up in each of the shorts added a cohesion to everything. While the film is working on a limited budget, the only time it is evident is during the Psychopomp dream sequences. I would have liked to see them handle the visual effects here better as they did not measure up to the high-quality visuals in the rest of the film.
I Dream of a Psychopomp is not straight out scare-you horror but instead looks at horrific events through a modern gothic horror lens. It will make you think while at the same time make you squirm in your seat. I Dream of a Psychocomp is currently on the festival circuit, but it shouldn’t be long before it is picked up for wide release for its solid storytelling, high production quality, and direction of Danny Villanueva Jr.