Distraction

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The red and blue flashing lights of on-coming police cars surround the motel where Ethan (Ross Steeves) is sat looking aghast, and we are then taken back to the beginning to see just how this story starts. After an expletive, slightly comical lambasting from his boss, Ethan is sent away to finish to his script. His boss hurls the script at him, which provides the stand out shot of Distraction, a slow motion close up of Ethan being surrounded by his scattered script mid air.

Ethan picks up a prostitute and takes her away to a secluded motel in the American desert. The gloriously dusty roads and the magnificent landscapes give the audience a familiar setting but one that is quite hard to tire of. The cinematography is accomplished throughout and this is most obviously shown in the journey to the motel. The prostitute, Angel (Jolene Andersen) is seductively lit and the red-hot desert sun radiates off her auburn hair. Ethan’s narration is the main device that pushes the narrative forward and literally places us inside the character’s psyche, which is even more important on a second viewing.

Whilst in the motel Ethan proceeds to write his script but the dangerous combination of liquor, pills and a prostitute only increases his distraction level. The motel scene is expertly shot with a trippy, hallucinatory sequence that pushes time along nicely, which when accompanied with the low key lighting and the eerie, distorted sound design provides an engaging, tense scene. This all culminates in an explosive ending that has a terrific David Fincher-esque reveal, highlighting the skill of the scriptwriter and director, Stephen Schuster.

Watching Distraction for a second time gives you context and understanding that was not apparent on the first viewing and therefore gives a whole new meaning to some of the dialogue and scenes. It is an impressively made short that keeps you intrigued from the outset, reminiscent of classical noir films. Distraction adds a modern twist to this genre and encourages multiple viewings, which is an excellent trait for a short film to have.

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The Bird

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The Bird is a beautifully composed short film which deftly engages with how the fallout of a loved one’s death can impact on those left behind, in often very contrasting ways. Co-directed by comedy writer Joe Parham and stand-up comedian Ben Target (who just previously made their debut with Frank, which screened in a number of film festivals), The Bird takes on the form of an intimate character study, with the two actors excelling in their idiosyncratic roles.

Julia Davis (Nighty Night and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) stars as a grieving mother who, in coping with a family tragedy, ignores her son (Alastair Roberts) in favour of lavishing time and kindness on a loyal garden bird who appears every morning. The son becomes increasingly obsessed with securing his mother’s love, and resorts to ever more extreme lengths to get it. Both parts are near silent so it’s a great credit to Davis and Roberts that they manage to present so much emotion and intelligence through their performances.

A number of visual and audio motifs drift through the The Bird, for example the birdcall that the mother uses to attract her feathery friend – it is a lovely touch that continues through the whole film and acts as a powerful undercurrent. Right from the opening shot of a desolate graveyard, the mood of death seeps into the film in some subtle and not so subtle ways. It is a melancholy piece, but one that possesses a wicked black sense of humour.

The Bird is a highly enjoyable short film, one that thoughtfully studies high-minded themes, but never in a sanctimonious or condescending way. Indeed its primary storytelling tools are humour and surrealism, which gently build in the background of the narrative, weaving melancholy and absurdity together for the big finale.

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Stalker’s Mark

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Stalker’s Mark is a 5 minute horror film directed by and starring Alexis Slade, and is about an unnamed, faceless person who is kidnapped and subjected to torture by a masked man after enjoying an evening with a couple of friends.

I say the character is unnamed and faceless because, well, we’re supposed to be that character. The film is shot from the point of view of the victim which, when juxtaposed alongside the alarming kidnap statistic at the start of the film, is what creates the terror and the suspense. For most of the film, the kidnapper is also faceless, sort of Slender Man-like, but he knows his victim and wants to punish her. We never know exactly why, as there’s no dialogue at all.

Instead of dialogue the film is carried largely through the changes between frantic and droning violin soundtrack. It’s used to set the scene, set the mood and also create fear when used alongside the black-and-white filter. We suddenly jump into Technicolor during the torture, I assume because Technicolor forces us to realise that it is “our” blood being spilled in an almost 300/Spartacus way.

You could say that Stalker’s Mark is very much Sin City inspired, what with the colour scheme and the dark nature of the narrative, but it also has the first person Peep Show element to it to get us engaged. The world, whether we like it or not, can be a dark place where bad things happen for next to no reason, Stalker’s Mark works as a horror because it makes the audience face that notion and learn to accept it.

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