Written and directed by Tanner Gibas, when Julian meets Melanie it’s love at first sight, however his best friend Tommy is suspicious and tries to separate them. In what turns into a chess game between the seemingly loving girlfriend and the scheming best friend, buried secrets swell to the surface revealing a darkness inside them all. Starring: Andrew Frank, Steven Loomis, Jacob Miller, Zach Miller and Jacquelyn O’Connor.
Young love can be a dangerous thing, falling too hard and too fast while knowing far too little about the other person can lead to heartbreak or if this film has anything to say about it, potentially much worse. Julian (Miller) is the classic young guy experience puppy love for the first time, he’s got his blinkers on and it’s going to take some serious reveals to pull him out of this stupor but Melanie (O’Connor) may be quite different than the rosy version she’s been showing him. The whole story very much fits a classic university atmosphere, living with his two roommates, playing video games, studying, having naïve ambitions, although many students probably wished their housing had allowed dogs like Julian’s. It dips its toes into a seedier side of student life, with a big focus on cheating and an implication of sexual assault but it surprisingly doesn’t get too dark.
By setting it up as noir, the filmmakers gave themselves a lofty goal, it’s hard to create that kind of dense atmosphere in a short film and it’s perhaps more appropriate to think of the film as a drama with a hint of thriller. It doesn’t quite have the complexity or richness of the visual to pull off that film noir vibe but it does set up the mysterious elements to its story well and reveals them at a gradual pace while still letting you use your imagination to fill in the gaps. That’s not to say that the direction doesn’t have a strong style, Gibas does well to incorporate the seedier elements of the story into his shots and using the darkness to his advantage, rather than using too much artificial light. It adds nicely to the colour palette leaning to yellow hues which enhance the atmosphere of its back-alley and parking lot settings; it almost feels influenced by the likes of David Fincher. The editing furthers enhances those qualities by using sharp cuts to enhance the pace and push the thriller elements of the story.
There are however some aspects of the writing that needed to be polished a little, there are a few missteps in the dialogue, although they’re only minor. The timeline is also a little messy, it jumps ahead a few months which isn’t entirely clear, so it creates a strange clash of going from having just met to acting like a long-term couple which doesn’t quite allow for a smoothly flowing story. There’s a couple of issues with behaviour, for instance ambushing a woman alone in a dark parking lot, the character has good intentions but it’s the sort of thing that people can not be aware of how alarming that is and how careful women have to be to not put themselves in that situation for fear of being attacked, it gives off more of a stalking tone which isn’t ideal. Although taken in the larger context of the negative light that they’re trying to set Melanie in, that is slightly offset but could have been further so by bringing that in more strongly slightly earlier in the film. However, her character in general feels fairly two-dimensional, other than being self-serving, there isn’t much of a personality or other tangible qualities given to her, like there are with the male characters, it would have been great to get a little more background or context to her character. This is something that particularly stands out in the final scene as there’s not enough of a tangible reason to believe that she’d act the way she does, possibly depending on how cynical of a perspective you have.
The acting is the sort of thing you’d expect to see from actors who are relatively new to the game and haven’t quite smoothed out their skills yet, so it’s a little bit wooden or ever so slightly melodramatic at times but given the student setting it blends in fairly well and doesn’t affect the film as a whole. Despite that, they do work well as an ensemble, the intermingling of their characters in the web that they’ve woven for themselves is convincing and easy to watch. The story that Gibas creates has a really solid concept, and the way it plays out for the most part is well paced and doesn’t reveal itself too fast, holding back for a couple of surprises down the line.
Perpetual Us has some rough edges but Gibas’ direction is stylish, cinematography is well done, editing is sharp and his story is well thought out, with nice touches of mystery and thrill. The acting team work well as an ensemble and are entertaining to watch, even if there are a few moments that feel somewhat forced. Gibas proved himself a man of many talents with this film, there may be areas for improvement but he’s shown that he has the skills to do so, it will be interesting to see what he does next. It’s an enjoyable, slightly dark drama with a thriller chaser.