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BISS: Short Film Reviews

Eric Walter, center, co-directed Whistle (Photo: Marlon Wallace) Eric Walter, center, co-directed Whistle (Photo: Marlon Wallace)

On Saturday, July 12, at 8 p.m., the Milton Theatre will hold the Best in Summer Shorts program, or BISS. It will screen a collection of short movies, directed by people who live in our area, some from all over Delmarva. Here are some reviews of some of the works that you'll see:

MOVIE REVIEW: WHISTLE

Directed by Eric Walter and Jon Parke

In Competition for 2008 Best in Summer Shorts

No Country for Old Men (2007) proved how effective a suspense film could be with minimal sound and an extreme lack of a musical score. It was probably the quietest thriller I'd ever seen, and yet still quite terrifying.

This short film by co-directors Eric Walter and Jon Parke rivals this year's Oscar-winner by co-directors Joel and Ethan Coen as a sort of a "No Country for Old Women." Instead of a mostly hushed yet aggressively-active chase, Walter and Parke make theirs mostly loud yet passively-chilling following.

Here, an old woman, presumably widowed, living alone except for her dog, is stalked and essentially haunted, not by a psychotic bounty hunter, but a noise, or a series of noises. It's not just haunting. This film, in fact, is an assault of sounds. It's in the vein of The Raven or The Tell-Tale Heart, except there is none of Edgar Allan Poe's psychological insight. Yet, all the Gothic charm as well as all the evocative and symbolic power remains.

Working from a template by C.B. Colby, a short story adaptation of a folklore, which feels like it could have been penned by Poe, Walter and Parke embrace a sort of nihilistic approach to filmmaking, like the Coens, that provides no answers and that exists merely to overthrow or shock the senses.

Yes, there have been plenty of ghost or paranormal films that have used the idea of assaulting with sounds, but, what Walter and Parke achieve here is more than just a woman being terrified by creeky floors, or mere bumps in the night. This is a symphony of sonic sensations orchestrated within a Sergei Eisenstein-like montage.

The whole thing feels like a slowly-built Eisenstein montage. There's no dialogue, just a succession of shots to sound. All told it is longer than most montages in feature films, but I was so absorbed in the assault and so on edge that it suspended time. An hour and a hurricane could have blew by and I wouldn't have noticed.

As dependent on sound as this film is, though, it would not have worked without the visuals caught by Walter who was also the sole camera operator. Walter said one of his chief concerns was how to make this short about what can't be seen. He didn't want to simply make a radio or audio-only program. There had to be pictures.

Yet, this short is about an unknown and invisible force that attacks an old woman of yesteryear. How do you capture that? How do you see what can't be seen?

Walter illustrates this with ordinary things you might find outside an old farmhouse and intensifies them. He stacks them, not only sonically but sight-wise, one on another like a Tower of Babel. Of course, none of it would have worked without the great performance of his one and only actress, Bobby Calloway.

If Walter is indeed stacking, he's stacking on the back of Calloway who carries it and who makes you feel the weight of that stack. It's a gradual crushing weight that does literally collapse her, but she transfers, without speaking a word, by her face and body language alone, the confusing and scattering anxiety.

Through it all, we see and feel that invisible force. What is it exactly? We don't know. Consciously or not, Walter and Parke give a naturalistic attachment. The woman hurries inside her home after noticing the noises as well as their increasing proximity and volume. She locks the door, shuts all the windows, shutting out the outside, and shutting out nature, which only briefly diminishes the problem. Though she's inside, the filmmakers keep cutting back to images of the skyline and rolling clouds over trees, as a nagging omnipresence.

There's one moment where the possibility arises that it's all in her head, as the old woman stares in a scratched mirror. But, perhaps, the filmmakers are saying that what is most scary is not the supernatural, but instead what is absolutely natural, that which is all around you, everything... as well as nothing.

Five Stars out of Five
Unrated but suitable for all audiences

Running Time: 7 mins.

MOVIE REVIEW: MILTON THE FERRET

Directed by Josh Lynch

2007 BISS winner

Josh Lynch may be a high school student at Sussex Tech, but he's on his way to being the next David Lynch. No relation though. Lynch is an aspiring filmmaker but thankfully this film by Josh, which he directed in 2007, isn't as confusing as David Lynch's movies.

Josh's film actually makes sense but like David's films, this one sure is strange. I dare not call it silly because, despite the fact the movie is about a puppet tied to a string that follows and eventually traps a young girl, the short film does take itself somewhat seriously. Yet, it can't help but be comical.

The puppet, which is voiced by Josh Lynch, looks and acts like it could have been a reject Muppet from Jim Henson's Workshop, like it's one of the naughty and really, really disturbed characters from Sesame Street.

A young girl, played by Jessica Lynch, yes a relation to the director here, comes out to play but everything is not A-OK. Something is not right in the town of Gumboro. I could say that it's the fact that Jessica is being stalked by a puppet that bears some resemblance to a ferret, but no. What's not right is that the cute young blonde may in fact be that puppet's mother, and hopefully not biologically.

I'll leave the interspecies love and crime story to the Lynch family, but what is screaming to be a comedy, Josh Lynch directs like an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" if produced for Animal Planet.

What's most impressive is the slick way Lynch has shot this short film and most especially how he has edited it, as to utilize every second to snap his story along.

First off, Lynch made some great choices in music. They were good in that, despite not being scored, seemed almost perfectly synchronized, if not purely appropriate for the action of the film, be it fast or slow-motion.

Secondly, Lynch accomplishes some really cool camera moves that make me forget that the look is amateurish. In several instances, Lynch is moving the camera backwards as his subject runs toward him and his vantage point is either through a screen or a door's keyhole that work so fluidly, as almost to be subtle but that does call attention to his cleverness.

The less than static nature of the camerawork, mixed with the AVID editing, which infuses certain moments into split screens and tri-screens, made it reverb "24."

The production value and acting ability is nowhere near that level. Yet, the energy and spirit didn't make me miss Jack Bauer.

Three Stars out of Five
Unrated but suitable for all audiences

Running Time: 5 mins.

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