One of my favorite aspects of horror is how films can take literal monsters and use them to reflect more figurative ones. Werewolves can be an examination of man’s struggle with his inner beast while zombies are often used as a tool to examine society as a whole. This is why I tend to love ghost stories so much. Ghosts can just be straight up paranormal horrors, but they can also represent a myriad of subjects like inner demons, troubled pasts, suppressed urges, mental conditions, etc. In “Show Yourself” the ghosts take us down the spiraling path of dealing with grief.
“Show Yourself” is written and directed by Billy Ray Brewton and stars Ben Hethcoat as Travis, a grieving friend who journeys into the woods to spread the ashes of his dearly departed friend Paul. As Travis journeys through the woods he recalls the times he spent with Paul in them and begins to reflect on his life. However, this quiet contemplation is interrupted when Travis begins to suspect that he is not alone in the woods.
First off, I have to say that “Show Yourself” isn’t a pure horror film. In fact, I would say it’s more of a contemplative examination of grief with some paranormal elements folded in to it. The film centers around Travis as he grapples with the loss of his friend and his current relationship with other people. Paul’s sudden death was the result of a suicide and because of this Travis is left struggling with a handful of heavy questions. Why did Paul do it? Why didn’t Paul come to him for help? Why didn’t he see the signs? On top of these lingering questions, Travis is also trying to process the heavy grief he’s feeling and the impact his struggle is having on his loved ones. It’s a sensitive and genuine look at how an unexpected death can destabilize your life.
And carrying the bulk of the heavy weight of these themes is Ben Hethcoat. For the most part “Show Yourself” is a one man show. Travis is out in the woods by himself, so for large parts of the film we just see Travis quietly dealing with his emotions by either drinking his sorrows away, listening to music as he wanders the woods, or watching videos he recorded with Paul years ago. It can be a little tedious at times, but Ben does an excellent job of portraying the emotional upheaval that is gnawing away at his innards. His performance is captivating because of how real and tangible his pain feels.
However, the film isn’t one long quiet character study as Ben is miraculously able to use his laptop and cellphone in the deep woods so he’s able to Skype and face time with friends. Maybe it’s been awhile since I tried to Skype in the middle of the woods, but strangely in a film with ghosts having a solid internet connection in the middle of nowhere was the hardest part to believe. Joking aside, all of this allows the film to have other people be on screen in some way and helps to take some of the weight off of Ben’s shoulders. Even though most of their interactions are through a screen, the supporting cast manages to deliver sincere performances that left me feeling like I was listening in on genuine conversations.
So, all that being said, how does the film handle the paranormal elements? This might’ve been the weakest part of the film for me. This isn’t the kind of movie where you’re going to have big jump scares. Instead it’s all atmosphere and creepy happenings. For the most part though it’s incredibly tame with things being in places where they shouldn’t be or seeing non-imposing people in broad daylight. In fact, there was probably only one or two moments in the film that genuinely gave me chills. I know this movie wasn’t going for the big scares, but given the premise it feels like if they wanted to they could have really gone much deeper with the horror element.
Before I forget, I also want to mention that the soundtrack adds a lot to this film. In scenes where Travis is drowning his sorrows, it adds the perfect amount of depressing ambiance and when Travis is happily trotting through the woods it injects just the right amount of brevity. It’s a very indie folk/pop type of soundtrack, but it doesn’t feel out of place at all.
“Show Yourself” is a contemplative film that takes a heavy subject matter and does an admirable job of processing it. For better or worse it doesn’t try to say something deep about the process of dealing with death, instead it just lays bare one person’s journey through it. It isn’t the kind of movie I would recommend to horror fans looking for a twisted ghost tale, but it is still a worthwhile movie to see if you’re looking for something that’s a lot more self-reflective and intimate.
“Show Yourself” is currently available on DVD, Google Play, and Amazon Instant.