From the start, 12 Kilometers is a feat; it's one of those short films --- clocking in at just under 28 minutes --- that feels like a big budget feature film. This short feels even more so because it's sci-fi horror. Writer/director Mike Pecci is a talented guy; you'd probably never be able to tell that this 1980s period piece set in Kola, Russia was shot in Massachusetts in 2015. The film was influenced by the "Well to Hell" urban legend of a Russian team lowering a microphone into the Kola Superdeep Borehole --- and ultimately recording the voices of those trapped in Hell.
Director of photography David Kruta delivers a series of beautiful Cinemascopic images that make the film look like it was funded by a major Hollywood studio as we start off with a Carpenter-esque theme ala The Thing. Eduard enters a warehouse site of a scientific drill tema and demands answers as the why work wasn't stopped two days ago when he called for it. The call to halt workwas also exactly after the death of his father, the main researcher responsible for the project.
We don't know exactly why Eduard is so upset about the mine continuing its work, other than not listening to his orders, but you can tell that there's backstory here, and it's believable. Eduard is on a mission to shut down the drilling by any means necessary --- while also hearing the demands of his dead father within his head. And then there's the rest of the team, who's managed to get a recording of what's going on way, way down in that hole... plus icky black fluid crawling out of everywhere and posessing the miners. The images are much more lyrical than what I'm describing, but you get the point.
While I was going to say that 12 Kilometers is a deft blend of practical and visual effects, after some digging, I was surprised to see that this isn't true. It's nearly 100% practical, which is even more astonishing. The creature in 12 Kilometer takes the shape of a constantly shifting black oil reminiscent of old X-Files episodes and the look of the charging alien beasts in Attack The Block. This stuff is called ferrofluid and it was captured by a science photographer working with Pecci to chilling effect. If you're able to see 12 Kilometers on the festival circuit, you'll also see how they managed to pull the ferrofluid into a microscopic close-up of pig brain tissue with a magnet. It all looks very cool and creepy.
All dialogue is delivered in Russian and the actors are all a very good, which is also indicative of good direction. It's one of those films where you get lost in the detail --- the richness of the shadows, the incedible detail of the dancing black ferrofluid, the grime of the main production design, and the retro props. There's a scene reminiscent of Under The Skin wherein Eduard confronts his father in a darkened, isolated room of what I think is his own mind --- or what is very likely a posessed fascimile of him. There are lots of possibilities here, and Pecci, like Lynch, isn't one to spoonfed his narrative.
My only gripe is that 12 Kilometers isn't a full feature, and due to its running time, many festivals are going to have a hard time programming it. However, it's a masterful blend of sci-fi, horror, and surrealism, and I look forward to seeing more from Pecci. I wouldn't be surprised if Hollywood snatches him up immediately after being exposed to this short film.
Check out the trailer below and read more about 12 Kilometers here.