Robert Eggers is such a dominant force in the indie film world that it’s easy to forget “The Northman” is only his third movie. Eggers made his feature debut with 2015’s “The Witch,” but he started directing films seven years earlier when he adapted Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” as a short in 2008.
The film helped Eggers develop the period horror aesthetic that he perfected in “The Witch,” and established his relationships with several key collaborators. Now, cinephiles can watch the short film for the first time, as Eggers has chosen to show the film exclusively on IndieWire.
“I am pleased to share ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’ It is an uneven film, but my first film that I was proud of making,” Eggers wrote in a statement. “It is also my first collaboration with my DP Jarin Blaschke and editor Lousie Ford, and we have worked together ever since, so it is an important film for all three of us. It is also my first collaboration with sound designer Damian Volpe.”
Eggers is not the first filmmaker to find inspiration in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story, which follows a man who is overcome by an inexplicable desire to murder an older companion but is haunted by his heartbeat in the walls after he pulls it off. It has been adapted into many films, notably a 1928 silent film from Charles Klein and Leon Shamroy, a 1961 horror feature from Ernest Morris, and recently, the 2009 film “Tell Tale” from executive producer Ridley Scott.
Like many short filmmakers, Eggers had to compromise on elements of his vision to accomodate difficult shooting conditions. However, he believes that some of the obstacles he encountered led him to even more creative ideas.
“Originally, I wanted an incredibly frail actor, on death’s door, to play The Old Man, and realized the shooting conditions would not be able to accommodate that fragility We shot the film in an abandoned 19th-century house in New Hampshire, in February. It was filthy and cold – to put it mildly,” Eggers said.
“I said to myself, ‘I’d rather have a doll play The Old Man than a slightly younger actor in makeup.’ That stuck. This idea of an unliving doll or puppet as the antagonist was a strange choice, but for better or worse, one that certainly makes the film unique. I am also particularly proud of the performance by Carrinton Vilmont. I hope that audiences take note of him.”
You can watch Eggers’ “The Tell-Tale Heart,” an IndieWire exclusive, below: