Directed by Christopher Alan Broadstone
In my experience, short films are a very mixed bag. They’re tough to write, they’re tough to direct and a good one is tough to find. More often than not, short films – especially those from students just entering film school – are laden with pretentious imagery and utterly incoherent storytelling that is a requisite of whatever experimental path they’re taking out of the gate. These kind of shorts often look good, but they’re empty because ultimately they’re not about anything substantial. Plain and simple, it’s a bitch to deliver a character and story arch in only a handful of minutes.
The short films of Christopher Alan Broadstone, all with an intensely macabre bend, take on Death himself (My Skin), psycho-sexual mind games (Scream for Me), and the devil inside us all (Human No More). I’m relieved to say, that for the most part, Broadstone delivers some very intriguing work and shows a mountain of promise as a developing artist for the genre.
My Skin, 2002
Clocking in at only 13 minutes, My Skin is one bold horror short that has more memorable qualities than most feature length studio affairs these days.
Taking place entirely in one room, My Skin showcases Death and a conversation ‘he’ has with a man who has just murdered a young woman, forcing Death to collect her soul early and sully the perfection of his death ledger as he crosses her prematurely off his list. Tony Simmons, who shows up in all three of Broadstone’s shorts, is perfect in the role of Death. He carries a towering screen presence and, judging from his swagger here, could be a genre heavyweight, if he were given a commanding role in a great script. Hell, his hand movements alone are fascinating enough for me to praise.
The atmosphere here is so thick, one could choke in it if they were left without a guide. Great prop work, great lighting, great camera work and truly great sound design. I dug the hell out of it. My only complaint is that some of the camera work is a little dizzying. I’d of rather let the story and the imagery speak for themselves, instead of being sped along in post production. But, then again, when you have only 13 minutes to build a film’s looming presence, you do have to make some quick cuts to the finish line.
Scream For Me, 2000
Scream For Me is a little less my bag, so I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did My Skin. While it is a technically accomplished short film that utilizes all of its resources in every shot, it’s just a story I didn’t care for, which is usually the case with shock cinema and my taste buds.
It opens with a man begging his victim to scream for him while he chokes her to death. After killing her before he could get his scream, and much to his surprise, the woman’s redneck-to-the-core neighbor comes in and ties up the killer, because that is what you do when you come over, "for some fucking" and you’re not leaving until you get it.
The characters here are all despicable, so who are we supposed to care about? And, if we’re not supposed to care about anyone, why is this story being told at all? It’s a case of me appreciating the work for what it does, but I regretfully confess to getting no real enjoyment out of it. It’s the same thing with films like Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left or Cannibal Holocaust– mission accomplished, but I just don’t savor the motivation like others do. Which is odd, because often times the stuff I write does little more than shock, so maybe I’m just retarded.
The acting is top notch, especially by short film standards. Tony Simmons is the bat-shit insane next door neighbor hellbent on getting off while teaching Garrot an important life lesson. The sound design is, again, great and the cinematography is a lot more focused and consistent than most entry level films (I’m assuming this was the first short film Broadstone made, at least for distribution, but I may be wrong).
Just a matter of taste. If you like the shocking, exploitative stuff, you’ll get a kick out of Scream For Me. It is sleazy, disgusting, and repulsive; qualities that a lot of horror fans actively crave, I just happen to not be one of them. Drink it, if that’s your poison.
Human No More, 2004
Human No More, the brief portrait of a detective torn apart inside by an unsolved murder case, is, for me, more enjoyable than Scream For Me, but I’m still left wondering what the motivation for the story was. I hate to start off a review of something I didn’t actually hate with a sentence that makes it sound like I did, so I’ll throw out the qualifier that I’m really only complaining because I wish it were longer.
The dialogue and exposition, all of which swirl around the mystery of what it means to be human, is smothered in imagery of great decadence and decay, like horror bred with noir. It looks great and has some very slick and impressive post production work and coloring, but why should we care? If this were the opening of a much bigger story, it would kick all kinds of ass and definitely leave the viewer wanting more, but as a standalone installment it feels too incomplete to me.
Much of the dialogue reminded me of material you’d find in the lyrics of various metal bands. I say this in no attempt to say that it was poorly written, because it isn’t, but the conversation at hand is of the same ilk. I was readily thinking of some Meshuggah lyrics as I watched. If you’re not in the same mindset as this humanity questioning film, it isn’t going to lead you over to its side – though this isn’t an argumentative movie to begin with, so really I should just shut up.
That isn’t to say Human No More is bad; it’s actually pretty good. Tony Simmons, the only person in the visible cast this time around, is solid once more. He has great facial expressions and that same screen clout. By now Broadstone clearly has a wonderful rapport with him and really knows how to mold his acting talents into the shape of the rest of the film. It is an adaptability that shouldn’t go unmentioned.
This is, yet again, proof that Christopher Alan Broadstone is a very sharp filmmaker who knows exactly what he wants on screen. There is a precision here, which is the same precision which runs through his other two shorts, that is indicative of nothing short of a very promising filmmaker. To be an auteur after only 3 short films…that’s impressive.
Check out Black Cab Productions for more details (and trailers) for all of Broadstone’s shorts, or buy the DVD compliation (which features more than just the shorts themselves) and his first novel, Puzzleman, which I’ll be reviewing soon. He is a talent to watch, without question.
Oh, and My Skin is available on Atom Films!