Scene from "Check the Locks: A Fidgety Folktale" by Eric Larson.

KAUKAUNA — The creative seeds for KHS grad Eric Larson’s award-winning horror short film were planted when he was a student at River View Middle School and later at Kaukauna High School.

Now living in Brooklyn, New York, the 2006 Kaukauna High School grad is a freelance senior copywriter / creative director after stints at Mashable, GQ, and BuzzFeed.

Larson

His most recent project — a short horror film called “Check the Locks: A Fidgety Folktale” won “Best Paranormal Film” for August at the 2022 Cannes World Film Festival, the Pittsburgh Moving Picture Festival, and the Nightmares Film Festival. (Watch the trailer here!).

The 15-minute film will screened last week at the New York Shorts International Film Festival in Manhattan, the largest film festival on the East Coast, according to Kelli Arseneau, who profiled Larson in the Appleton Post-Crescent.

Larson says his most most formative creative experiences growing up were in English classes –– notably, his seventh grade English classes at River View Middle School with Mrs. Marsh and his 10th and 12th grade English classes with Mr. Keehan.

“Both classes really pushed me to express myself through writing,” Larson told Kaukauna Community News.

Larson, whose parents still live in the Fox Valley, said the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” was a small inspiration for the film. The themes of the book parallel the film’s main character’s journey, he said.

He first read it in 10th grade in Keehan’s class, and as a nod to the book’s influence on the screenplay, there’s even a brief insert shot of the book on a shelf in the film, Larson said. 

Part psychological thriller, part old-fashioned haunted house story, the film marks the beginning of a woman’s difficult journey confronting her long-dormant demons and finding comfort inside her own head.

“There are plenty of films about anxiety, but ‘Check the Locks’ tackles this theme from a perspective we rarely see,” Larson writes in the online description of the film.

Following a nervous breakdown, the lead character retreats to a friend’s cabin in the woods, only to be faced with her greatest fear: the photos on her phone inexplicably changing.

Trailer

The film parallels Larson’s own life.

“’Check the Locks’ was inspired by my own experiences with anxiety.” Larson writes in his director’s biography. “For years, I’d been unable to leave my apartment until I’d meticulously checked my stove to make sure it was turned off.

“As my anxiety worsened during the pandemic, I even began to take pictures of the turned-off stove before I left — that way, I could check in later and tell myself, ‘See, it is turned off … you have nothing to worry about.’

That’s where the idea for the film was born.

In the film, Larson says, he wanted to explore the idea of what would happen when a reliable comfort, like photographic proof, is ripped apart from the inside out — and why that ultimately might be the best path toward healing.

After the initial success of “Check the Locks,” he said he has more short films in the works.

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By Dan Plutchak

Dan Plutchak, born and raised in Kaukauna, is cofounder of Kaukauna Community News.