Directed by: #ChrisBrake
Written by: #ChrisBrake
Short Film Review by: Thomas Jay
The crowdfunded Short Film Cactus Boy (2019) is Chris Brake’s second outing as Writer/Director after his first with the 2017 short Scraps. Cactus Boy tells the story of now adult Winston Pickle (Colin Ford) as he decides it’s now time to separate with his imaginary friend from childhood, the entirely practical ‘Cactus Man’ (William John Banks).
Intercutting between scenes from the childhood of Winston and his now adult life as an employee of a garden centre, the film manages to give us a rather detailed and complex character study of an individual who‘s clearly had a difficult life up to the stage where we meet him in the present. Spending large portions of his childhood in a broken home with a mother (Jennifer Jones Nesbit) who’s relationship with her child is fractured to say the least, with the invention of Cactus Man being there to fill a gap in the boys’ life, perhaps the missing father figure as the man like Cactus is dependent on the care of Winston in the scenes set in the present. This Film is certainly something you have to rewatch and I’m glad I did so now writing this review as it certainly went up in my estimations. Winston has over the course of the story of his character, evidently suffered a great loss and as a result is struggling to shake his past, hence the presence of Cactus Man and his difficulty in letting go so the plant can be “Some place it can grow”. The arrival of Clem (Georgie Flores) shakes Winston’s world to the core and as the two manage to forge a meaningful connection over their mutual, anthropomorphic Cacti friends, our lead is finally surged into what is essentially growing up, as evidenced by the scene of his final game of Cowboys and Cacti.
The cinematography adds to this slightly stranded atmosphere that both Winston and Clem share, it’s difficult to describe in both a Form sense and the more abstract emotional aspects, but I feel like an apt comparison to make is Steven Soderbergh and of all his films, Magic Mike. In both titles as a viewer you feel slightly adrift and afar from the world, almost like a documentary only lacking a present face (i.e. Louis Theroux) and no outright acknowledgment of the camera, you watch as the subject(s) just exist. It is an undoubtedly odd viewing experience but they tend to resonate rather well on both a personal and mass scale. The settings of Arizona only further contributes to this atmosphere, as in Soderbergh’s worlds of Magic Mike, Logan Lucky etc. Or in the setting of a documentary there’s usually some allure to that world and that’s the case here, to quote the creator of this, Chris Brake on his Kickstarter manifesto, “[That] I lived there for a crucial year of my own life, when I too was at a crossroads and it’s the state where I feel like I became an adult and from where the “Grown up me” returned to London”. Its a personal setting for the Writer/Director and that element is really palpable when watching, but I think best so, the largely unpopulated section of Arizona we see on screen really communicates the setting of a desert (further anchored by the ever present Cacti) and communicates thematically the isolation of Winston, hence the crowded closing shot that marks a new beginning for Ford’s character in this world.
This ‘fable’ of a time at a crossroads was an outstanding watch and I believe sets Brake up for a promising career as a writer and/or Director with a unique style that blends Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro with his own personal touch. A great short film I’d highly recommend.
Reviewed by: #TomJay