Pareidolia is a 2023 short horror film directed by Aaron Truss, whose previous work includes the wonderful full-length documentary Cult of VHS (2022). Amazingly, this newest project was brought to life through crowd-funding, once again showcasing Truss’ love of and deep roots in the genre. The story follows a university lecturer, Sinead Chambers, who thinks she’s being stalked by a hidden presence in her home. She can’t be sure if it’s her imagination, or whether something sinister is watching her.

Pareidolia is the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. Ever thought, “Aww, that car looks like it’s smiling”? That’s pareidolia! Ever turn a corner at night and nearly have a heart attack because you perceive a human standing in your living room, only to find out it’s a towel hanging from a door? Pareidolia! Interestingly enough, not everyone experiences it the same way, with most people experiencing just “face pareidolia” (smiling car!). It’s another one of those fascinating human experiences that are often universal, and sometimes insidious, that I knew nothing about before watching a horror movie. The theory laid out in the movie by Sinead is that it is an instinct to be on guard for danger, like seeing the eyes of a predator hiding in a pile of leaves, or another human being sneaking up on your at night. What begins to take shape for her is something far beyond this.


I have to say, director Aaron Truss makes the art of creating short horror look easy. Pareidolia manages to pack an entire meal of horror into a bite-sized portion, maximizing the short time run with the perfect balance of setup and action. A nonlinear narrative is flawlessly executed to bounce back and forth in time, allowing the film to build suspense and character naturally while disorienting the viewer enough to allow for surprises. In less than 15 minutes I experienced 2 jump scares, watched as 4 characters were brought to life, and was left musing about what I had just watched for 2 days. That’s more than most full-length horror movies I watch these days. The cinematography demonstrates creativity and expert-level skills, experimenting with unusual camera angles and effects that serve to compound the mounting horror. There were so many scenes where I was blown away by the use of lighting, framing, or even the visual effects—both practical and digital. 

My favorite part of Pareidolia is that the visuals are creepy as fuck (swear word needed). The entity is so chilling and brilliant, brought to life through horrifying movements that will stick with you long after you have turned your TV off, channeling elements from Come True (2020) and The Babadook (2014). Diane Franklin (of Better Off Dead fame) is superb as Sinead, an everyday woman who stumbles into the terrifying paranormal. The acting in general is fantastic, which leaves the characters feeling like real people. Some tired visual tropes are employed as character indicators, such as a coroner eating near a body and a priest drinking from a flask. I’ll give this film a pass because 15 minutes barely gives you enough time to build character (the endeavor itself is worthy of praise), and little visual clues like this are effective as familiar shorthand for “desensitization to death” and a morally grey “I’ve seen some shit” persona.


I thoroughly enjoyed this film and would love to see a longer treatment so that we can get more into the characters, and the priest’s “Oh no, it’s happening again” moment, or a very creepy Easter egg in the background of the final scene that tells us the story isn’t over. Overall, Pareidolia is a great example of the magic horror has to offer, and the often-overlooked joy of short cinema.

We watched Pareidolia (2023) at FrightFest 2023

FrightFest 2023

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