“All of the best horror movies are about something more than what’s on the surface; you’ll often hear film academics saying ‘Jaws isn’t a movie about a shark’, and the most celebrated examples of the genre have metaphors sewn throughout.”
Josh Trett, The Making of ‘The Black Shuck’ short film: How I made ancient folklore reflect modern fears
Who is Josh Trett of Trett Films?
Josh Trett is a filmmaker based out of Norwich, England. He is also the producer of award-winning short films, co-founder of film agency Trett Films, and, from the looks of his socials, an avid fan of both James Bond and the much anticipated Paddington 3. Trett’s style is layered and cinematic, something that carries over both in promotional materials and his passion projects. He and Trett Films co-founder, his brother Matty, have produced television commercials for the likes of Sky, Sainsbury’s, and KPMG. While his promotional material is definitely engaging (Comforts of Norfolk in particular makes me nostalgic for the county I once called home), if you’re reading an article on Slow Burn Horror dot com, you’re probably looking for something a little more on the creepy side. And boy does Josh deliver.
His most recent project, Dial, is a short film about a young woman coping with the death of the mother she’s spent the last few months caring for. Spookiness arises as she realizes the phone that has been ringing on-and-off for a while now hasn’t been connected to any line in years. Trett describes the film as “a drama with a ghost story element.” From the trailer, Dial looks stark and disconcerting, making generous use of the contrast between light and shadow, carefully composed shots, and Dutch angles to keep the audience on our toes.
His horror trends towards the psychological and the personal. Dial is directly inspired by both the image of a character discovering that a ringing phone has never been connected, and the passing of his grandmother in 2022. His art style is less in-your-face gore and more close examinations of the darker emotions within the human experience: grief, regret, suffering. Before Dial, he worked on the 2018 short film The Black Shuck, which also features a protagonist coping with the loss of her mother.
Trett pulls from his life to give depth to the stories he tells on screen. The Black Shuck is set in his home county of Norfolk. Shot on location, it has a uniquely Norfolkness to it, with its stone churches and overgrown graveyards. It uses the East Anglian myth of the Black Shuck, an enormous demonic dog with fur as dark as midnight and eyes as red as hell, to explore the character’s depression, blending folklore with individual experience. Meanwhile, Dial’s dreamlike, disconnected quality can almost directly be linked to its origin. As Trett explains, “shortly after [my grandmother] passed, I had an odd dream to do with her house and her neighbors and there was something else to do with her being on the other end of a phone call. When I woke up, I wrote all I could remember from the dream into the notes section of my phone. Then using the disconnected phone idea as an inciting incident, I built the script around it using elements of my dream and real life.”
When asked about his horror inspirations, Trett cites Mike Flannagan, Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and Benson and Moorhead. These are filmmakers that evoke terms like “unsettling,” “intricate,” and “moody.” Trett describes Flannagan’s approach to his work as “tragic but romantic.”
What scares Josh Trett of Trett Films?
“Horror to me is used to explore real-life fears and real-life issues and to communicate it in a larger-than-life and expressive fashion. Art should be used to self-express and to communicate the stuff that matters to us but it should be done in a fashion that is digestible and…well artistic. Nobody likes to be beaten around the head with facts and statements and others’ opinions but horror is such a diverse genre, it allows those conversations and thoughts to begin in a much more creative and organic way.”
Like many of us, Trett was first drawn to the horror genre by its status as taboo. He recalls being 10 or 11 at a car boot sale and practically begging his parents to let him buy Driller Killer, solely because his Dad mentioned it had been banned in the UK. (They did not, in fact, let their prepubescent son purchase the film that features one man drilling a hole in the head of another). But according to Trett, being kept away only drew him closer to the flame:
“A friend of mine when I was young told me about certain scenes in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Meat hooks? Leatherface? I had to see it. I pleaded and pleaded with my parents to let me watch it but they refused. So, I went behind their back and secretly recorded it off TV one night. I was too scared to watch it in one go so I would just watch a few minutes around the time when everyone was in bed. If it got too scary, I’d switch it off and wait a few days before returning.
To this day, I still love Texas Chainsaw Massacre and can now watch it one go…not to brag or anything.”
As he’s gotten older, his tastes have moved away from gore towards what he coins as “tragic horror.” It’s the appeal of something that has a “lingering scare.” Trett uses Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House as examples. He explains, “As I’m reading it, I don’t feel overly frightened but something about the images it conjures in my mind and the overall sense of dread seems to creep up on me once I’ve put it down and gone to bed.”
When asked what scares him, Trett explains that horror films don’t have the same punch they used to. As a filmmaker, he understands what goes into making them make us scared, from cinematography to sound design, which admittedly dampens their mystique. It’s an “I know how the sausage is made type of scenario.” That said, he’s found a personal appeal lately in horror video games. “The first-person perspective and the interactive nature of gaming heighten the creep level.” Sometimes, he boasts, he’ll even brave headphones.
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