Written and directed by Anthony Hett, how do you respectfully dispose of your beloved dead pet when you have no way of burying them? Starring: Donna Coulling, Laura Hanna and Abigail Hamilton.
One of this film’s strengths can be seen from the very second it opens, using minimal angles and editing to let its story speak for itself. It walks far into fly on the wall territory, almost giving you the perspective of being part of the conversation rather than simply observing. The editing (by Aideen Johnston), uses a light hand, only stepping in when needed, giving a little bit of movement.
Its other key strength is how down to earth, relatable and sympathetic it is. Firstly, it’s always nice to hear some northern voices, with such a large portion of British film typically centred around London and the south. Anthony Hett’s writing capitalises on natural conversation, letting the humour come out smoothly and not feeling forced in any way. Everything about the film, except perhaps replacing the turtle with another type of pet, feels like something that could happen to any average British person.
The mother-daughter relationship that Donna Coulling, Laura Hanna portray feels perfectly convincing and many will be able to see their own familial relationships within it. Leonardo is sweet, funny, grounded and compassionate.
Verdict: ✯✯✯✯½ | 9/10
Written and directed by Rosalie Kicks and Katie McBrown, an elderly couple seeks revenge on a pizza restaurant. Starring: Julie Chapin, Randall Gort, Jenna Kuerzi, Krystle Ann Griffin and Carleigh Spence.
The tone that Rosalie Kicks and Katie McBrown capture here feels like a quintessential example of American indie horror with a taste for the weird. It’s over the top, exaggerated, colourful and full of energy. It could be compared to the atmosphere of The Greasy Strangler in its absurdity, just without the utterly disgusting element, thankfully in this case they’re trying to make you laugh not feel nauseous. Which is exactly what it does, it’s silly and hugely entertaining because it lets go of any convention and runs with it. It doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to throw too much at its viewers, there’s just the right amount going on so that it moves at a smooth, flowing pace.
It is absurd in itself that anyone would hate pizza but the choice of motivation for their hatred is right on the money. Every piece fits so succinctly, moving in a satisfying way then adding a little extra cheese on top with its final note. Julie Chapin and Randall Gort give great performances, mixing the curmudgeon edge of old age with a relenting hatred which is a lot of fun to watch. It’s a bundle of delightful madness.
Verdict: ✯✯✯✯✯ | 10/10
Written and directed by star Michaela Barton, love is possessive, love is obsessive, love is consuming, love is sweet. A young woman craves her lover, and soon this hunger becomes overwhelming. Also starring: Kelly MacArthur.
With its ultra close shots and nostalgic style, Devour quickly dives into a tone of intimacy and affection. There’s a huge vein of sentimentality but at the same time it feels unusually cold. Where you’d imagine a warmth of love, the short shots instead create a vampiric mystery. There’s also a quality to it that feels like an exploration of curiosity.
Its overall idea works better with prior knowledge going in, that extra context can help round out the atmosphere. It’s important with micro shorts to keep it simple, there’s only so much you can fit into a minute or so, and this film feels aware of that. It boils down a larger emotionally driven story to the bones while keeping a portion of its potential emotion. The pieces work but it’s held back slightly from making more of an impression, missing out on that heat from its romantic theme.
Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10
Written and directed by Eric Bizzarri, co-written by Tavish Gudgeon, Fraser is a shy and introverted only child, but he speaks volumes on the court through his passion for basketball. Fraser has a chance to prove himself when the coach catches him practicing after school hours. Starring: Emidio Lopes, Andrew Bee, Rachel Peters, Cameron Stewart, Quinn Bennett, Jolly Amoako and Bryan Piitz.
Telling a story of a teen with high hopes to make the team, impress their family and friends and get closer to their dream, is never going to be entirely original. It’s a tale that has graced many a film and sadly Pressure Play doesn’t have much to add. The story plays out exactly as you’d expect, there are vague hints at something deeper but sadly the conventional plot takes the lead. It’s a shame it didn’t use more of its runtime to explore LGBTQ issues in high school sports or how verbally abusive coaches don’t have a place in schools. With the language it gives its coach character, it’s a shame it’s not more outwardly condemned.
The direction is a varying level of success, there’s some good closer shots which are nicely edited together. However, there are also a number of shots which feel poorly framed, to not get the full picture. Sadly, this story feels one-dimensional, it’s lacking a suspense or energy to drive it forward, and doesn’t have anything unique enough to balance that out. Although it can’t be denied that Emidio Lopes and Cameron Stewart make a strong leading pair, it would have served the film well to tell more of their story.
Verdict: ✯✯ | 4/10
Farewell She Goes
Directed by Sophie King and written by Claire Tailyour and the film’s stars Isabella Speaight and Cat White, two young women sneak away from their strict stately home existence to lay their pet canary to rest.
With this film’s location choice comes a huge production value, it’s absolutely stunning and atmospheric, and King makes the most of that. It takes in the beauty of its location without losing the sincere warmth and personal nature of its story. It’s certainly unusual to walk into what becomes a touching metaphor for abortion and learning to let go when it’s the right thing to do. However it feels as though it’s a choice which is played out fairly simply, it’s a tough topic and the short doesn’t quite tap into that harshness.
However, the chemistry between Isabella Speaight and Cat White is highly enjoyable to watch. Their friendship is sweet, understanding and kind, it’s only a shame it doesn’t have the added bonus of a queer edge which is a staple of period cinema. The costume work is also strong, pushing the high visual quality even further. The whole concept is a great idea, it simply needed to lean into its honesty to do a bigger justice to the words of its final frames.
Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10
The Thing That Ate the Birds
Written and directed by Dan Gitsham and Sophie Mair, on the North Yorkshire Moors, Abel, Head Gamekeeper, discovers the thing that is eating his grouse. Starring: Eoin Slattery, Rebecca Palmer, Lewis Mackinnon and James Swanton.
Gitsham and Mair, along with James Oldham’s cinematography, start out on strong footing with a haunting clarity which is beloved by dark British horror of today. Hitting both the striking and disturbing qualities in a violent image. Their direction is strong throughout, it’s highly atmospheric and suspenseful. It plays the beauty of nature against the unnatural and bloody. The timing of the editing (by James Taggart) also adds an extra punch.
However it feels ultimately let down by its story, it’s too simple to match the style of its direction. It falls into a domestic drama which distracts from the suspense and fear. It follows a path that circles back to where it began and it’s not quite sufficient to play to the same level as the visual. There’s definitely a great deal of potential and talent here, but it ultimately doesn’t manage to reach the full extent of those possibilities.