Short Film

The Recursion Theorem (Short)

MV5BNWIyNGM4MGYtNWQ2Ny00NDkxLWFmN2EtNmRlMWZmMzU0NjlhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTAyODExNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1319,1000_AL_

A man wakes up alone in a room. He doesn’t know how or why he is there. No matter how hard he tries there doesn’t seem to be any way out of the room. What’s even more strange is that the room appears to defy all the laws of physics. Is he in Hell? Is he in another dimension? Will he ever escape?

The Recursion Theorem is the second film venture by writer/director Ben Sledge. He truly knocks it out of the part with this short film. It is a short that would fit right in as an episode of The Twilight Zone, and even has scenes that are reminiscent of The Shining. The concept of a man waking up trapped in unfamiliar surroundings is a smart and simple start. It is what happens after the man wakes up that makes Sledge’s story unique, interesting, and at times even funny.

The thing that makes The Recursion Theorem stand out the most is the performance by Dan Franko (The Night Watchmen, Veep). Considering the fact that there is only one person in the entire short film it is incredibly important to cast someone who can captivate audiences. Franko excels in this as the ill-fated Dan Everett. We see Dan go through all the stages one would expect when realizing you are locked in an otherworldly prison. He feels anger, hysteria, insanity, fear, and everything else in between. Franko perfectly portrays the array of emotions and gives viewers a multifaceted performance. He single handedly carries the film and holds your interest through to the end.

Along with a compelling story and great acting, this short also has beautiful imagery. The cinematography is outstanding. Some of the shots are framed so perfectly that they are truly works of art. Since the filmmakers chose to film the short in black and white it it was wise to focus on the cinematography. It adds a lot of visual interest that may normally by lost by the lack of color. The effects, while quite minimal, are also well done – specifically in one scene where Dan’s body seems to appear in a wisp of smoke. It is a small effect, but it is so well executed. It has a finesse that one might not expect from a short film.

The Recursion Theorem is a masterful descent into madness that will bring you back to the Twilight Zone era. It makes me wish Sledge would do his own reboot of the series, as this short film is evidence he would do it justice. The film has a fascinating story, is insanely well acted, and is very pleasing to the eye. While I normally want short films to leave me wanting more of the story, The Recursion Theorem doesn’t quite do that. I think it is great just as it is. Instead it makes me want Sledge to do more similar work, and it makes me want to see Franko in many more screen roles. I think we will be seeing great things from them both in the future.

You can view the short film by clicking here.

OVERALL RATING: 5/5

Advertisements

The Spirit Machine (Short)

Final-Poster_100percent

A down on his luck widower searches through a remote home, along with his teenage daughter, looking for old items he could sell for a profit. While rummaging through the piles of junk the daughter finds evidence suggesting Thomas Edison’s last invention may be hidden somewhere on the property. The pair decide to search for the invention known as “The Spirit Machine.” What they find is much more than they bargained for.

When I received the email telling me Timothy Plain had written and directed another horror short I was thrilled. Almost a year ago the first short film I reviewed was another short he directed, Over My Dead Body. While that film was more of a comedic short, Plain went in a different direction for The Spirit Machine. This supernatural adventure will take you back to some of your favorite childhood films. Plain drew inspiration from the booby traps of Indiana Jones films and the frightening specters from Poltergeist, as well as other classic films. The passion that went into the making of this film can even be seen in where the funding came from. In less than a month The Spirit Machine raised a whopping $96,000 on a Kickstarter campaign, and the filmmakers utilized that budget quite well. The sets are more elaborate, the period costumes are beautiful, and both the fabricated items and the CGI are very well done. It is all much better than I would have expected from a short film.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is that the so called “Spirit Machine” may actually exist. While it has never been found, rumors of the machine’s existence have been circulating since the 1920’s. Using this device as a springboard, Plain is able to create a compelling plot that goes even deeper than just the mystery of the machine. While the machine is what brings excitement to the film, this is also very much a story about grief and the relationship between a father and his daughter. It is a story that has a lot of heart behind it. My one true critique would be for a couple of the scenes with the daughter. She often seems a bit too knowledgeable or nonchalant about the strange things that are happening. For example, at one point the girl and her father almost get sliced by a booby trap, and she doesn’t seem even remotely phased by her near-death experience.

The two leads of The Spirit Machine did quite well. Andrea Ferreyra played the teenage daughter, Jane. This is his first acting role in a film, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the short. She does a great job overall. The only thing I found bothersome were those couple scenes where she is simply too nonchalant about what is happening. I know most teens are often that way in real life, but I also think they would be a bit more concerned after almost being decapitated. Will Springhorn (Loaded, Valentine’s Day) also does a great job as the father, Randy. Springhorn vividly portrays the deadbeat dad who would rather find his next moneymaking scheme rather than find a real job. I also want to give honorable mention to Karina Wolfe as the medium, who I recognized from Plain’s previous film, Over My Dead Body.

The Spirit Machine is a nostalgic and spooky adventure with beautiful steampunk touches. Plain does an excellent job of giving audiences a fun film that also goes deeper by touching on the different ways in which people grieve the loss of a loved one. You can tell while watching the film that the cast and crew enjoyed making this short. This film also passes my ultimate test for short films; it works well as it is but leaves just enough to make me want more. The only thing that I found irksome was how the daughter reacted to certain situations, but that is a small enough detail that it doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film.

You can view The Spirit Machine on YouTube by clicking here.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

Foxglove (Short)

bd5fdb_fb2bff8fc4e14607a2aae41b35d8c366

In a remote area of Western Ireland, an engineer lives with his young daughter. He is there to continue work on a wind turbine project. The engineer decides to sign off on building more of these turbines, despite concerns of the environmental impacts. Soon after, it becomes clear that he and his daughter are being targeted by something ancient, and it is not pleased by the changes to its land.

I was lucky enough to get to view this short by director Brian Deane after discussing his previous short, Blight. While the two shorts are very different in theme and plot, they are both frightening tales. Foxglove is a chilling story set in modern times. What I really love about the plot is that it takes a modern concept like finding renewable energy and adds in elements of ancient folklore. Most of the folklore that is referenced in this short comes from old stories about fairy folk and fairy rings. Even today, folklore is a part of Irish tradition. The film made the combination of these two opposing aspects meld together to create a fascinating plot. While I will spare specific details, I will say the end of this short film made my jaw drop in the best way possible. It was simple, yet shockingly effective.

The acting in this short was also quite powerful. Bob Kelly (1916 Seachtar Dearmadta) played Dave, the engineer father. It is clear that Kelly’s character is concerned about the environmental impact of his wind turbine project, but circumstances are keeping him from taking the time to make sure it is safe for the environment. When his actions lead his family into darkness, the desperation that a father feels when protecting his child comes across as intense and genuine. Not only did Kelly star in this short, but he wrote it as well.

Foxglove makes excellent use of “unseen” characters. Throughout the story you hear the fairy folk speaking to Roisin, the young daughter. While we cannot understand what they are saying, or see them, Roisin clearly does. It almost makes it even more menacing not to see the very thing you are supposed to be afraid of. On the other hand, the wind turbines are also a bit of an unseen character. The turbines are shown from time to time, but even when they are not on screen you can hear them around the house. During the final moments of the short, the sounds from the wind turbines act as a score. It is a very effective approach that adds to the intensity of the last few moments.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what makes a short successful for me is that it works in the small run time it has, but it leaves me wanting more. This is a short I can easily see becoming a feature length film. What I would especially love to see is the plot going deeper into the ancient folklore surrounding the fairy folk. Luckily, I knew a bit about the stories from other films and books, but some viewers might not be as aware. When this short becomes available online, or if it is showing at a festival near you, run, don’t walk, to see it. Foxglove is a chilling story that brings the dark side of fairy tales into the modern age.

OVERALL RATING: 5/5 (short film scale)

The Secret of 40 (Short)

Josh (Julian de la Celle) recently lost his mother in a tragic accident. Despite his efforts to move on and continue living a normal life, he can’t seem to let go of his mother. In a desperate attempt to communicate with her one last time Josh decides to perform a ritual that is supposed to reach her from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t the only one that heard the ritual, and now Josh may have unleashed something more sinister than he ever intended.

There are so many aspects of The Secret of 40 that make it a great short. Part of what makes it stand out from other short horror films is the format it was shown on. The Secret of 40 was the very first horror film to be shown on the Barco Escape three-screen experience. When I saw the film I saw it along with a series of other shorts, each one taking a different approach to utilizing the three screens (some more successfully than others). The Secret of 40 used the screens in a few different ways that worked exceedingly well; they used it to show the present and a flashback scene at once, they used it to do a panoramic shot circling through a room, and they used it to have small details hidden in plain sight but in an area you may not initially notice. This added a level of interest to the short that you wouldn’t get with any other horror film. Not only were you watching a great film, but you got to have a unique experience while watching it in Barco Escape.

The idea of someone wanting to contact a loved one who has passed away is something we have seen before in other films. What makes The Secret of 40 different is the method in which the contact is initiated. In most films you get the typical Ouija board or seance. These filmmakers did their homework and gave the audience something they haven’t seen before. The team that created The Secret of 40 also did a great job setting up the scary moments. In some cases they would set up a scare you knew was coming, but then left it until you had forgotten about it only to surprise you with a good jump. Other times, they took an already frightening scene and pushed it just a bit further, making the audience gasp.

All around the cast of this film did a great job, but there were two stand out performances. The first one is obviously Julian de la Celle (The Fosters, Heroes) who plays Josh. What made his performance great is the way he portrayed the grief Josh goes through after losing his mother. At first he appears foggy and detached, like many people who lose loved ones do when they are in mourning, but still trying to get through each day. Then, once the idea clicks in his head that he needs to try contact his mother, de la Celle expertly shows Josh’s desperation to reach that goal. The second performance that stood out to me came from Robert Rusler (Weird Science, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) as Josh’s father. In the scene after Josh performs the ritual, Rusler masterfully portrays a combination of fatherly concern for his son and confusion as to what Josh has been up to.

This short worked not only because it had a compelling story and great acting, but also because it leaves the possibility to expand the story. The Secret of 40 ended in such a way that works well for a short, while also leaving room for the potential to add another hour of footage. The only aspect of this short that I could potentially dock points for is the simple fact that we barely get to see the evil entity. You only really saw it in brief glimpses. That being said, I believe that also works in the filmmakers’ favor because it leaves you wanting more. The Secret of 40 is a deeply unsettling film that will send chills down your spine. I truly hope that it can be made into a feature length film.

OVERALL RATING: 4.75/5 (short film scale)