Merging ASMR-ready sound design, confessional poetry, ghostly cinematography, a showstopping monologue, and enough spilled water to devour an entire security deposit, the Portland-made short film Your Heart Is Mine is an expression of tension burrowed so deeply, no amount of moviemaking can relieve it.

Exhibited last year to positive receptions at the Oregon Scream Week Horror and the Sherman Oaks film festivals, Your Heart Is Mine was conceived piecemeal and birthed uncomfortably by Vancouver, Wash., filmmaker Jake Whiston, perhaps best known as half of the Portland folk-noir duo Whiston & Warmack.

“I think giving you a coherent answer would be dishonest,” Whiston says of the film’s evolution from music video idea to macabre experimental drama.

The director compares the finished product to shaking off a nightmare, which suits the 20-minute short’s oppressive gloom. It begins in a black-and-white bathroom with images of a frighteningly distant, long-locked woman (nearly recalling The Grudge). Within this traumatic childhood memory, we absorb the whispered mantra (“your heart is mine”) of a deceased mother and volatile artist played by Portland’s Zoe Stuckless. That voice still echoes within her adult son Charles (Jude Brewer) as color flows back into the present tense and local thespian Tim Jaeger unloads a sinister, almost Tywin Lannister-esque dressing down on his silent son about movers who ruined their apartment by setting off the sprinkler system.

From there, Your Heart Is Mine grows only more eerie, driven by Whiston’s obsession with rhythm and the titular song by Jared Hinton, aka People, that announces the film’s climax. There’s a fixation with floor-bound water droplets, then a father-son tussle so intimate it literally bumps into the camera, then a prolonged encounter with a sex worker having very little to do with sex.

“When these strings hit, something awful has to happen,” says Whiston of his instinctual writing process.

He confirms it’s difficult to summarize how these narrative and stylistic pieces fully unify. The editing, Whiston says, amounted to a brawl between artistic ambition and the subconscious.

“[The film] is almost kind of stupidly metaphorical for how I felt during making it,” he adds, “wrestling with all these forces I didn’t have control over.”

Ultimately, Your Heart Is Mine is elevated by stark imagery and visceral acting, including the film debut of Portland podcaster and author Jude Brewer. The host of the literary podcast Storybound (with a new season featuring Chuck Klosterman and Matt Haig) embodies hapless protagonist Charles—stunted into overmatched silence by the emotional assaults of his ever-present, spectral mother and wickedly eloquent father.

Brewer spends most of the movie in claustrophobic close-up: clenching, swallowing, thinning his voice into a quaver through which he’ll try to ask the father about the mother’s untimely death.

“It felt like a very unconventional protagonist for a film,” Brewer says. “I’m literally not in control of any of it. I’m just forced to experience it.”

While the film’s genre remains an unsolvable question, both director and star particularly appreciate the accolades from last year’s Oregon Scream Week Horror Film Festival, at which Brewer was named Best Actor.

“It’s definitely horror of a kind,” says Brewer, comparing his performance to one long unutterable scream. “I was just trying to torture myself for, like, four days basically. I think a much more experienced actor would not do that, probably.”

After several more submissions, Brewer and Whiston hope additional 2021 festival appearances lie ahead for Your Heart Is Mine, but for now, audiences can view it online, with headphones recommended to fully immerse in its spine-tingling sound design and the score Whiston devised partially by smacking butter knives against wine bottles.

The self-deprecating director calls his own film flawed, but it’s an equally fascinating and devastating pit in which to spend 20 minutes, steeped in intense craft, untrained Method acting and sensory precision. Good thing too, because there’s no escape.

see it: Your Heart Is Mine streams at Free.