Ivans Inferno – Short Film Review


Ivans Inferno is an experimental short film by August Sittig-Bell, starring Peyton Catt and Rosa Sittig-Bell, with music by Sasha Chiecsek. I know half of these people quite well and know of the others. I have never before written a review about a film where I know the creators, but I will still attempt to remain as unbiased as possible. Regardless, it is still a very good film.

Ivan (Peyton Catt) wields a pistol

The main story of Ivans Inferno is never told directly but can be interpreted through the cryptic imagery and minimal dialogue we receive. It seems to be the story of a man’s descent into madness over the death of a girlfriend. The film is 25 minutes long, black and white with a square aspect ratio, has less than 10 lines of dialogue, and mostly takes place inside Ivan’s bedroom. It is disturbing, and creepy, to say the least. Watching this film in my bedroom was like watching Titanic on a cruise ship. There was a constant urge to look over my shoulder to make sure that no one was there, and that there wasn’t a bleeding hole in my wall.

As one would expect from a student film, Ivans Inferno wears its influences on its sleeve. There are notes from Eraserhead, and especially The Lighthouse, as well as specific shot recreations from Taxi Driver and The Shining. All of these films explore madness, violence, isolation, and it is interesting to see how all of their influences come together into Ivans Inferno. It is almost that, by reference, Sittig-Bell has assimilated our feelings surrounding those classics into his film. Intentional or not, it is extremely effective.

Ivan at his cluttered desk

One of my favorite quotes about the film comes from George Lucas. While many people know him from Star Wars, Lucas started by making experimental short films like Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, Look at Life, and 6-18-67. His experience in experimental short films taught him that, “The sound and music are 50 percent of the entertainment in a movie.” It seems that both Sittig-Bell and composer Sasha Chiecsek have also followed that philosophy. The sound design is jarring, peaks often, and is wholly unnerving. The same can be said for the unique music created by Chiecsek. It is a relentless score that permeates every scene and adds heavily to the feeling of horror and insanity. Rather than following traditional scoring techniques, Chiecsek follows the practices of Hans Zimmer and Brian Eno, creating a soundscape rather than specific melodies. He utilizes heavy distortion and feedback from a guitar for these unique sounds, and in this experimental setting, it works perfectly.

Ivan can’t sleep

Occasionally, the scares in Ivans Inferno dip into the indie-horror game territory, with hard-cut jumpscares, heavily distorted visuals, and strange jazz motifs that too often appear comical. This disrupts the tone of the film and shows some of the amateur qualities of the filmmakers. At the end of the film, this jazz motif is resolved and utilized in an incredible way, but only because it is a complete thought. That brings me to my next critique. This film doesn’t feel complete. We only get to see a small piece of Ivan’s life, and not nearly enough from the mysterious girl that is causing his insanity. I watched the film twice and got even less from the story the second time around. Even though this is an experimental piece, I still want to know more about these characters and why Ivan is going insane.

However, this is definitely not your standard student film. The cinematography is great, the props are realistic enough and creepy, and the shot composition is intelligent and deliberate. The acting from Peyton Catt is perfect for the role, especially the bone-chilling scream he lets out about halfway through that is one of the most terrifying things I have ever heard. Ivans Inferno is a unique project and is extremely impressive in what it accomplishes. For the most part, it avoids the fatal traps that most student films fall into such as poor lighting, stale acting, over-the-top editing, and little to no sound design. It excels in all of those areas. I only wish it was a little less esoteric and provided more story to back up the outstanding sounds and visuals.

Link to watch: https://youtu.be/AQZTk2fzbok 

Ivans Inferno (2021)

dir. – August Sittig-Bell

8/10. An extremely impressive student film that, while flawed, will disturb and unnerve each viewer through its creative story, chaotic visuals, and intense sounds.