The following review is for Charles Doran’s fascinating new short film Soirée.
Soirée tells the story of Bill, a young academic who we learn lives in the beautiful house at the top of the hill with the Bougainvillea – a thorny ornamental plant that grows in his garden. Bill is incredibly proud of his garden and loves nothing more than spending time sitting outside and enjoying the peace and tranquillity it provides. When we are first introduced to him this is where he is. His girlfriend Soledad (Surely a reference to Jess Franco muse Soledad Miranda) joins him, she hands him a gift to celebrate their one month anniversary. Bill looks unimpressed by the cufflinks and admits that he has not bought a gift for Soledad. Bill comes across as being very self-centred, claiming that his very presence is present enough for Soledad, who then mentions that they have been invited to a party by a Professor friend of hers that evening. Bill doesn’t seem too keen to attend but he begrudgingly accepts the invitation to the party.
The soirée, which is being held at the Institute for the Scientific Study of Human and Non-Human Phenomena is hosted by a gentleman named Wilhelm, played by Doran’s brother and co-writer Timothy. As he and Bill become acquainted over a few drinks, we are treated first hand, to what a scene stealer Doran is. His role as the Aleister Crowley type occult leader figure of Wilhelm is a perfect bit of casting, he exudes a genial menace of the sort made famous by Charles Grey’s Mocata in The Devil Rides Out or Niall MacGinnis as Julian Karswell in Night of the Demon. He is also attired most appropriately in a 1930s style suit, and even his home décor seems appropriate for an occult leader. As the two drink and become further acquainted we begin to see just how thoroughly unpleasant Bill really is. He tells Wilhelm and Soledad of the despicable way in which he was able to cheat the former owner of the house out of her home, and when they are joined by Wilhelm’s friend Jason, he is dismissive and rude about the occult figurine that Jason has brought to the party for the ritual that is due to take place. A very drunk Bill then agrees to be silent during the upcoming ritual in order that he may stay and watch.
Warning! The following two paragraphs may contain some slight spoilers. The camerawork and direction are spot on, particularly during the ritual scenes, which are just oddball enough to be truly menacing. The use of drums and a ritual dance performed seductively by a female cast member help to create a suitable atmosphere, whilst the use of animal masks draw influence from Robin Hardy’s classic The Wicker Man. Wilhelm’s mask, on the other hand, harks back to something very Lovecraftian in nature, but even more terrifying.
As an interesting side note I would like to draw attention to the film’s use of the ancient Roman religion of Mithraism, which was practiced throughout the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the common era. This is particularly of interest to me as I live in the North East of England, near to the site of the Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh, on Hadrian’s Wall, which was built around 200 CE. Legend would have us believe that the God Mithras captured and killed the primeval bull in a cave. This apparently led to Mithraic temples being small, gloomy places as they try to replicate the atmosphere of the cave.
Overall, this is a beautifully made short film with a straight forward but well executed plot. The production values are great, and the main cast are all excellent, Matthew Nelson as Bill, Catie Smith as Soledad, Timothy Doran as Wilhelm, and Patrick Peterson as Jason. All ably buoyed by a fine supporting cast. In fact, the whole film looks and feels a lot more expensive than it is, which is real credit to the director who has created something that looks good on a budget. All credit to him for his hard work because it really does pay off here. I look forward to seeing where Charles and his brother go from here…
Charles Doran is an Administrative Professional for a major university in Southern California. His previous short films, Westsider, and Ennui, played at film festivals all over the world. Soirée is his first attempt at an “urban wyrd “ type of film. Soirée was co-written by his brother Timothy, an Assistant Professor of History at Cal State Los Angeles, who runs the very real Institute for the Study of Human and Non-Human Phenomena, the primary setting for the film.