Released: 15th April
Seen: 24th March (Screener)
Well, looks like the worldwide coronavirus lockdown extravaganza has finally hit Australian shores, shutting down the cinemas meaning I’m no longer going to be heading out to see films to review until they open again. Obviously, that’s going to mean some mild adjustments, I’m going to be reviewing a lot more Netflix things than I have been so far and might even bring back some reviews of classic films. I literally have a giant pile of recently bought classics nearby I can work through and hopefully, that’ll keep this blog going until they finally do that “releasing films that just came out in cinemas onto digital platforms” thing in Australia since it clearly is working well over in America. I also get to review things people send me, either short films or smaller studios that hit up my contact form and offer me screeners and we’re going to get to one of those today. As with a lot of screeners I tend to get, this is an independent film made on a limited budget. In fact, today we’re dealing with a 45-minute short film called Tales from Six Feet Under.
The film itself is a series of shorts held together by a creature known as “The Visitor” going through a graveyard and stopping at different graves before we learn just how each person came to die. Entirely black and white, the film is going for a Tales from the Crypt vibe on a very small budget. The design of the visitor is quite good and the black and white filming technique really helps sell it. He doesn’t have to say anything, but there’s enough to him to make him memorable and intriguing enough to carry the story. It’s a simple device that works well for a short. If the film were longer I might expect more, but at 45 minutes his little repeated “Put the flower on the grave” thing creates a memorable image I can work with.
The first story focuses on 17-year-old Joe Roth who has been told by his father to clean up the basement. While down there he happens upon an Ouija board and because everyone is very stupid when it comes to Ouija boards, he decides to play with it. This is a pretty promising short with a good slow build and a fairly effective scare right at the end. It could use a touch more editing to give it life and variation, I didn’t need a shot to be held while a character walks past the camera and turns off a light. The held shots lead to some slightly uncomfortable framing but it turns it around with a well-shot ending, using the image of two candles to trick the audience before a big reveal of something genuinely unnerving. It’s a simple idea that could’ve used a bit more fine-tuning, but it works with what it has.
The second story, Sam Hooper, is probably one of my favourite short film ideas ever. Revolving around, I’m guessing, the actual director of the film as he tries to figure out just what his next film is going to be about. It’s an idea that’s good enough that it would make for its own interesting anthology film, having a director rattling through various ideas until he gets to one that works. It’s a fun experiment in just what can be done with one person and one camera in one location. It does tend to drag a little, particularly on the same image of the director thinking through his potential ideas but it is a fun way to take the creative process and turn it into something interesting. I’ll admit, I almost zoned out of the opening of this short right up until the movie paused and started playing with me. I do kind of feel like this is a short you should end on, going full Meta like this is the power play you save for the ending but it’s a clever enough idea.
The third story, Jennifer Burton, makes a good case for it being the last since it’s the one that brings the wraparound character in and uses him as something more than just a creepy interstitial character. It takes place on Jennifer’s birthday and has her talking to someone over text, guessing who this mysterious someone could be. It’s another genuinely good idea but what hampers it is how it’s presented. Most of the short is silent and relies on a text conversation to build the tension. Because of that element of the story, they just show the phone screen on camera so we can see the conversation and that’s never a good idea. When you just film the screen of a phone you will come across one of two key issues. Either the shot’s going to be well-framed but the phone has to be held at such an unnatural angle that no human would ever hold a phone like that, or it’ll be naturally held and badly framed. This film leans on the “good framing, but no one holds a phone like that” and it’s distracting after a while. There’s a good reason why you tend to see films put overlays of texts above people’s heads, it’s visually interesting and doesn’t require a 45-second-long held shot of a cell phone screen where half of the conversation is grey bubbles with white text that is impossible to read. I ended up not trying to read the texts because I just couldn’t make them out. The sad part is that it does have a decent build-up, it leads to a good ending and the surprise of the ending worked but I feel it would’ve worked better if it was easier to understand the back and forth.
Of course, like a lot of low budget films, there are some other technical problems to be found here. The framing is often a little too close, when in doubt the filmmaker seems to do a close-up shot for everything with little variation. There are a lot of times when the camera focus isn’t quite right or the framing becomes repetitive or the music loops and overpowers some dialogue and a bunch of other issues you can put down to “They had a tiny budget and it’s clearly a bunch of friends/family members making a short film together just for fun”, they aren’t deal-breakers by any means but they are the kind of thing that does get noticed. There’s still a lot of good ideas and some serious potential here. You get a sense that these people love horror films and want to make a really fun one and there’s some of that here. I honestly hope to see more of what these people can do, they already have some good ideas. The technical stuff can be taught and learned, but what can’t be taught by anyone is how to come up with a good idea and how to structure it, and this film has that. If you want to support a promising filmmaker who clearly is on their way to something, check this out when it hits Prime on the 15th of April. I look forward to the next time I see the visitor, I already can see more than enough potential here that I’m excited to see just where this goes.