Written and directed by Michael G. Kehoe, a waitress is given the opportunity to change the immediate future, when her life depends on it. Starring: Michelle Renee Allaire, Sala Baker, Teva Dresbachb Barnea, Yan Birch, William Dixon, Dennis Keiffer, Richard Leacock and Tori London.
A key factor with short film is making a good first impression and that’s something Kehoe does well here. It immediately has a strong atmosphere that’s very reminiscent of classic thrillers and mystery, and that’s even more impressive taking into consideration that the film opens with the titular song, which as it turns out is surprisingly suited to a mysterious vibe. The direction is solid throughout, it varies its pacing and movement to suit the mood; it uses familiar techniques to instil an established feel to it. It manages at times to sit in its own quietness then at others, with the help of the editing work (by Fabricio Di Santo), it kicks up the pace and brings through a more suspenseful tension. The quality throughout is extremely consistent and is the strongest element of the film, which is then pushed further by the simple but very effective score that sits atop it.
The concept of the film plays on a lot of existing lines in film, unfortunately it’s hard to be too original when talking about time travel, especially in the sense of going back to change future events. It’s a shame, as there is still an intriguing level to the conversation of whether you would take a stranger’s word on the danger that lies ahead and take fatal action to prevent it. Using the ‘Would you kill a young Hitler?’ as the key example in the script to explain itself is an unfortunate choice, it’s played out at this point by the amount of times it’s been mentioned across film and television. Again, it does still have an interesting edge to provide, although the dialogue can be quite simple at times, there’s a lot of possibility to its story. The way that it’s framed holds the feeling of making a deal with the devil, it would have been great to make it slightly more clear what the Mystery Man’s intentions are, as it feels primed for something satisfyingly sadistic but could also be more altruistic. Giving that aspect a sharper definition could have helped it round out with more of a bang.
Things kick off strongly with the interaction between Michelle Renee Allaire and Richard Leacock, their performances make you feel the history and weight that lies behind their conversation, without having to spell it out. Leacock easily holds that air of authority and eloquence required for his character while Allaire brings a fear and hesitancy. Yan Birch has a presence that’s reminiscent of Stephen Lang, both in look and in holding an intensity; pulling off one of the most ominous conversations about whipped cream that’s likely ever been had. On the other hand, the performances from Tori London and Sala Baker feel a little too wooden and stereotypical, they lack a certain individuality or believability which slightly undermines the tension built by the rest of the cast.
99 Problems is well-directed and suspenseful. It quickly builds a strong atmosphere that feels right at home with the mystery and thriller films that have come before it. The writing and acting could use some sharpening in points so that it could elevate itself further but regardless, it makes a great first impression which lasts until the credits roll. It asks the age-old question of how quickly we turn to violence if our lives are at risk and leaves you wondering if you’d react differently to its characters.