Cambridge Shorts: Manticore

Image credit: Johnny King

I interviewed Johnny King about his exciting new film Manticore, premiering at the Cambridge Shorts Film Festival this Saturday.

Tell me a little of what Manticore is about.

Well, Manticore is a single scene set in the apartment of a man who sits at his desk and plays his entire voicemail inbox back to himself. Over the course of this, we get a vague picture of his shaky relationship with his ex-girlfriend along with some disturbing implications for what might have happened afterwards.

Can you tell us why you chose to use just one actor?

Only having one actor present on screen makes him the de facto focus of the film.

Tell us a bit about your techniques to create suspense in your film.

A lot of it comes from the way the film is structured and framed – there’s creepy score music throughout, the voicemail messages build tension in that there’s only so much that can be gauged from each one, and despite only running for five and a half minutes, the majority of the film is quite slow-paced. The shots initially take a while to explore the room before settling on Flinn, so there should be some early suspense there. But for me, the most compelling tension comes from the direction and acting – Flinn is almost disturbingly inexpressive for much of the film, but occasionally makes uneasy movements or does unpredictable things in a way that should keep the audience on their toes!

Do you think films should always finish unresolved and with questions remaining? Are there any films in which you think directors manage this particularly well that perhaps inspired you?

I don’t think there should be a general rule for how all films should finish, but there is a lot to be said for films that are bold enough to leave their audience scratching their heads. I think it tends to work best with films that are really invested in their characters, themes or atmosphere, rather than films that try to construct supercomplex plotlines that can never be entirely resolved convincingly.

However, there are very few films that I’d described as wholly unresolved – perhaps the most suitable example I can think of right now is the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, which constructs a very relatable web of midlife uncertainty that is just left hanging at the end. It’s as though the only form of ‘resolution’ comes as the film posing the question, “is it really viable to expect some kind of plot twist or transformative experience to elucidate things for either the protagonist or the spectator?” and then saying “nah, they can sort things out for themselves.” I think that’s both bold and incredibly honest in relation to the narrative.

In Manticore’s case, leaving things unresolved was partially a cheap way of letting the film’s suspense live on, but also significant in the way the film is presented: throughout the whole scene, Flinn is given very limited room to present himself as a character – our impression of him comes largely from his voicemail messages, from the choice of shots and from the score – so it seems appropriate to cut things off when he finally speaks for himself, leaving the audience to make what they will of him.

What sort of questions do you hope your audience to be asking?

A good old-fashioned “what the hell happens next?” would be a nice start, but if people are asking themselves whether or not the way Flinn is presented is fair or even accurate, I’ll be happy.


Manticore will be shown at the ADC Theatre on Saturday 20 May as part of Cambridge Shorts.

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