Written and directed by Graciela Mae, two 9 to 5 workers battle it out to be the company’s employee of the month. Starring: Aaron Barrow, Eleanor Cobb and Sohalia Ferrier.
The first frame sets that utterly 80s atmosphere, which is then emphasised by the style of direction, the set decoration and the slight grain and hue to the cinematography. What’s interesting about that visual edge is that it doesn’t play against the clarity, it manages to establish itself without having to revert to an 80s non-high definition quality. The direction and editing nicely feed into the tension and overflowing resentment of the film’s story. Visually, it is missing an attention to detail with a few points that could be tidied up, but otherwise it’s strong.
Barrow and Cobb gives great performances, the bitterness between their characters is extremely evident before they say a single word. Filled instead with snide side eye and overlong eye-contact, a perfect amount of passive aggression which slowly becomes much less subtle. Sadly, that’s where the story weakens, some may enjoy the over the top nature of its progression more than others, but it’s not as well done as its earlier moments. It really pushes that one comedic note and it’s a shame it doesn’t truly embrace that walk on the outlandish side and go all in rather than just advancing the same point.
Coffee Breaks is an odd and playful version of classic workplace tensions. It has its weaknesses but also holds a strong visual and directorial style which fully embraces all the typical cheesy nature and bad fashion of the 80s.
Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10
The Devil’s Dice
Written and directed by star Matt Brothers, six friends fall under the spell of some demonic dice during a birthday weekend away at a remote cottage. Lost for decades, this recently unearthed trailer is all that remains of the 80s cult hit that never was. Also starring: Anne Clemens, Kate Suzanne Hunter, Martin Huntford, Luke Russell and Helen Yates.
Immediately The Devil’s Dice jumps into the world of cheesy, b-movie horror, it has that familiar tongue-in-cheek self awareness. It’s almost akin to Evil Dead, but actually conscious of its ridiculous and bizarre nature. There’s a good dose of sarcasm, it’s lively and added to its isolated setting, throws back to the beloved atmosphere of summer camp slashers. It’s a solid spoof but while the trailer style format brings an edge to the humour, it also comes with its drawbacks.
Being set up with the perception that you’re only viewing a portion of the final product, even when it’s fake, does still keep you at arm’s length. It’s a view through bits and pieces, asking you to fill in the gaps, which you can but it’s still slightly restrictive. However, it’s the only flaw in what otherwise is a fun, funny and delightfully weird short film.
Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10
Written and directed by Laurie Barraclough, a girl follows a woman she thinks is her lost mother through the night. Starring: Eleanor Shaw and Emily Raymond.
Laurie Barraclough’sopening shots throws back to a Californian style, on the road with an air of emotion lingering. There’s a mix of sadness, curiosity and mystery, it doesn’t quite hit a note of suspense, leaning towards something more sentimental. Interestingly, the film is at its strongest when the dialogue doesn’t get in the way because it has a clear atmosphere which easily says what it needs to. The set-up is also a great idea, it’s perfectly simple, only needing a couple of cars and outdoor locations, which is a very creative, as well as practical, way to tell a story like this.
However, even though it’s only a brief 7-minutes, it feels as though those could have been used more effectively. The progression is quite slow and without a slightly larger context, the emotions can’t dig as deep as the story calls out for. It’s touching nonetheless but the longer, sequences towards its end do become slightly awkward, a little more background on the relationship might have made it a more impactful moment or allowed it to build up more naturally.
It’s well shot, emotionally charged and Eleanor Shaw really gets across that desperation and sense of feeling lost, it just needed a touch extra to push it to the next level.
Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10
Written and directed by Patrick Hopkins, after their first date, Linda invites Kyle back to her flat but things get twisted when he discovers her loyal companion, a threadbare teddy called Tony. Starring: Ben Ashenden and Alice Orr-Ewing.
Patrick Hopkins sets up a very modern style with his direction but also establishes a strange, offbeat tone. It moves quickly into the arena of oddball type comedy, mostly then turning that corner into the unusual. It has a warped sense of humour but at the same time it doesn’t feel all that new, there’s a quality to it that’s playful but not surprising. It works well and is funny but simply misses out on more of a punch or shock to go along with its experimenting with the outlandish, dipping its toes in darkness but remaining in the comedy arena.
Ben Ashenden and Alice Orr-Ewing bring that blossoming chemistry, it’s there but it’s also awkward, new and with an uncertainty of whether it will work out. The nervousness and anticipation of their first night together then blends perfectly with that dubious turn as it momentarily offers something potentially violent before switching gears back to the strange. Tony Bear is lovingly weird, a touch understated but its comedy and style feel quite familiar.
Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10
Written and directed by Andrew McGee, co-written by Tara Shehata, Iris, torn out of her idyllic digital world and uploaded into a stolen synthetic body by her grieving mother, must face her body’s objectification and violent potential in a dark future. Starring: Margaret Clunie, Phoebe French, Abigail Moore, Claire Marlein, Lee White and Lucy Sheen.
As Venus unfolds it becomes very clear that Andrew McGee must be a fan of Blade Runner. The colour palette, the location choices, the use of rain and more all pay homage to the sci-fi classic. Its entire style feels like a love letter to the films that came before it, the various iconic futures imagined by filmmakers over the years. Although, it doesn’t necessarily feel unoriginal, it still has its own edge to bring to the table. There’s a great mix in its direction of the darkness of everyday versus the intense colour and brightness of its artificial reality.
It has solid effects and make-up work, especially on a short film budget, it may not be perfect but it’s more than you could ask for. The story works in some moments better than others, its initial loving, mother-daughter relationship is sweet and has a subtle but tangible intensity. However, when it then makes a big shift into something more rough and violent, the transition doesn’t quite work. It’s too much of a tonal change to move smoothly, and hints at something more political that it doesn’t have the time to venture into. It’s well put together, brings a lot of classic tones of sci-fi and the relationship between Ivy and her mother is genuinely touching but there was more to be explored.
Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10
Directed by Chris Elena and written by Lee Zachariah, a young woman is told the secrets of the world through an art gallery issued audio guide. Starring: Emma Wright and Nyx Calder.
Audio Guide is all about honesty and truth, it very accurately asks the question of how much truth do people actually want? There’s always a line when you no longer want to hear it. It’s smartly written and imaginative in its exploration of the gallery visitors. The tone is understated, it’s not trying to throw hilarious situations and futures for its patrons in your face, they’re creatively funny without being absurd. It also has a big heart, you can feel the conflict that arises in Audrey (Wright) as she wants to warn people of their ultimate fates and feels for their impending fatalities.
There’s a dramatic score that goes along with it to build up its atmosphere to keep it firmly in the realm of drama, with a comedic edge. There’s a quality to the visual which feels reminiscent of a painting in itself but the way that the writing moves does feel more graceful than the direction. Elena’s style comes across slightly more blunt than the flowing patter of the story. It also unexpectedly veers into religious territory in its latter moments which works but feels somewhat out of place. The editing could have also tightened up the run time slightly, there are moments which go on longer than they need to. However, it’s an extremely creative short film, with a good sense of humour, a sincerity and has pertinent questions to ask.