Judge Joel Pearce doesn't like his shorts in a bunch.
Celebrating independence a few minutes at a time.
While streaming video has been the medium of choice for many would-be filmmakers, joining ranks with other indie artists to create a solid DVD release has to be a more appealing option. This collection contains a wide variety of shorts for film fans looking for something new and different. It certainly offers that, although few people will be entirely pleased with this collection.
Facts of the Case
This collection contains seven short films, produced and shot by independent teams and released by Moviemark DVD. It offers these directors a chance to pool their resources and reach a wider audience, which is difficult when many of the films had a budget of around $100 and can't be released any other way. I will review each of the stories separately, then talk about the package as a whole.
• Asleep in the Deep
A homeless woman named Alyce (Delilah Davis) moves into an old apartment building, occupied by a strange group of unique characters. She finds herself drawn by a highly skilled violin player that lives upstairs.
Strangely artsy, Asleep in the Deep is based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. The heroine is caustic and strange, as she reads odd poetry to the mute violin player and exchanges savage insults with the other tenants. The awkward acting doesn't blend well with the harsh lighting. The dialogue is poetic but completely impenetrable. It's hard to say whether the short is too short or too long, though Alyse's shrill voice will stay with me longer than I would like. As is true with the films of some European directors, opaque ambiguity doesn't necessarily make for engaging cinema. In this case, it's just irritating and alienating. Nice cinematography, though.
A man, closed in by debt, finds himself drifting deeper and deeper into depression and isolation. It doesn't help that his wife doesn't allow him to see his daughter, since he can't afford any alimony payments. As one last shot, he phones to talk to his daughter…
Heartfelt and honest, Jose Rosete's contribution to this set tells a very familiar story, but from a fresh perspective. Ramon (Jose Rosete) is trapped by past choices, unable to pay alimony and reaching the end of his rope. It's the kind of character that we are often expected to hate. In a matter of 15 minutes, Ramon has a fascinating transformation and develops quite a bit considering the stereotypical nature of the role. Through Indebted, we are asked to remember that those we dismiss quickly still need to be treated as people.
• Midnight Snack
Unable to sleep, a man goes down to his fridge, not realizing that something sinister lurks in the shadow of his home.
Even in a truly independent collection, Midnight Snack is a bit of a disappointment. Director Shawn Hunt had the wisdom to make his film short and simple, but doesn't get much accomplished in that time. Although he demonstrates the ability to shoot creepy sequences, there isn't a shock or twist big enough to make this work as a horror piece.
• Boxed In
A young female criminal steps too far, and finds herself the owner of a dead man's wooden box. She then gains the ability to control things around her, but they may come with a terrible cost.
Clearly designed to be an update of the genie legend, "Boxed In" does have a lot going for it. In particular, it features a strong lead performance from Molly Hainline, who has an unusually expressive face and a natural presence. The special effects work well for a zero budget film as well, though the film ultimately fails to escape the limitations of the source story. It tries to add a few twists along the way, but they are too complex for such a short film. A commentary is included, with one person trying desperately to keep director Daniel Heisel and cast on topic.
• The Locksmith
A locksmith sneaks into the home of a new client, only to discover that she has horrible secrets of her own. What he hoped would be a titillating evening of voyeuristic thrills soon becomes a free fall into the worst kind of horror.
In terms of technical polish, The Locksmith deserves very high accolades. It features three believable performances, genuinely creepy cinematography, impeccable timing and pacing, as well as a healthy dose of good, old fashioned gore thrills. Unfortunately, it also suffers from some of the biggest lapses in logic I have ever seen. Victims go from being so weak that they don't need to be restrained to suddenly being strong enough to hold another person down. The conveniently named Smith simply collapses with no explanation at one point. While director Jason Stephenson has almost certainly seen Takashi Miike's Audition, he should have learned from the horror masters that gore and thrills can't make up for the lack of a good story.
A behind the scenes featurette was included, which gives a few insights into how gore effects can be done well with almost no budget. There is also a brief photo gallery for our perusal.
Two brothers share a farm, but increased pressure keeps the bills piling up, but not the income. Something drastic needs to be done.
Although it's attractively filmed, Souled is not nearly as good as it should have been. Weak performances from both of the leads and an unclear script seriously undermine everything director Richard Marshall's tries to accomplish. On a brighter note, the acoustic soundtrack works particularly well here.
• The Depression of Detective Downs
A detective chases down a kidnapper while battling his own feelings of depression and hopelessness.
I think we still largely see animation as a source for light entertainment most of the time, though The Depression of Detective Downs has a much larger goal than that. It's a seven minute public service announcement regarding depression, and what it's like to try to live and work while depressed. It includes statistics, warning signs, causes and solutions, all crammed into an engaging and entertaining narrative. It handles the issues without getting dull or preachy, which is quite refreshing. The animation is quite rough, but the rest of the production is highly polished. Depression is an issue that warrants more attention, and this is a fine start. It comes with a bonus two minute short entitled Not Until you Dance, which is a bit more heavy-handed.
In the end, I feel a bit bad criticizing this batch of films. After all, this wasn't some huge studio production with hundreds of professionals behind it. It's a collection of films made by people willing to put their unfunded dreams into the living rooms of the world. These films are going to an audience that has spent decades watching professionally produced, polished, feature length films. We get jaded easily, and often don't have the patience or trust to wade through such rough, personal cinema. Those who are willing to try something new and different may find great rewards in a few of these films. But most of these shorts aren't much better than the amateur attempts that can be found on YouTube or Google Video. It is, however, a good way to support this kind of production. Some of these directors have the potential to shoot the next big thing, but it will take funding to make that happen.
The DVD itself is well produced. Moviemark DVD had the presence of mind to separate each film, allowing it to maintain the original aspect ratio. Some are in 1.33:1, some are letterboxed widescreen and a couple are anamorphic. By using the transfer that was delivered by the filmmaker, Each looks as good as possible given the filming conditions and camera quality. Be aware that most of these are shot on cheaply available cameras, so don't come in expecting reference quality film. The video and audio shows no DVD compression flaws, however, so all rough spots here are due to the filming and editing. While there are few special features (as mentioned above), what is present was created with the same level of love and dedication that the films were.
Should you rush out and buy this DVD? Probably not. For most viewers, this collection will be saddled with enough disappointments that you would probably be happier checking out some indie films online, then returning to more commercial fare. If you're a big fan of indie filmmaking, this may be a good way to support the industry while adding a few solid examples to your collection.
I will consider this set not guilty, though it probably should have been presented to a municipal judge instead.
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