Tuesday, February 18, 2020

WFA ’20: Polybius (short)

It is sort of like the evil version of The Last Starfighter. Of course, it is still set during the 1980s, just like all good horror movies are. A suspicious arcade game seems to have an insidious effect on players, but the investigating sheriff certainly inspires confidence in Jimmy Kelly’s short film Polybius, which screens during the 2020 Winter Film Awards.

There is a new game at the magic store where Michael Bower and his friends hang. It seems to involve puzzle-solving skills, so it appeals to the brainy teen. Unfortunately, his interest quickly turns to obsession, resulting in suicide. Sheriff Atkins has seen several such cases in recent weeks, so when his sister Jennifer blames the game, he gives credence to her suspicions.

Arguably, Polybius is more of an exercise in horror fan service than an attempt to generate suspense or scares, but it is really smart and self-aware fan service. First and foremost, it stars genre legend Tom Atkins as the namesake Sheriff. As usual, he is great fun to watch, but he also gives us quite compellingly portrayal of a world-weary but empathetic lawman. However, real fans will notice Stacey Nelkin, his co-star in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, also sort of “appears,” as the picture of Atkins’ wife on his desk and as the voice of the radio dispatcher. Plus, young Jennifer Kelly deserves credit for her impressive work as grieving Jennifer Bower.

Everything about Polybius looks like the Eighties, which is cool. Yes, the story is kind of dumb, but so were so many of the vintage 1980s horror movies we now look back on with great fondness. Recommended as a nostalgia trip (and some great 1980s period production design work), Polybius screens Sunday (2/23) and next Wednesday (2/26), as part of this year’s Winter Film Awards in New York.