Written and Directed by James Todino
Cinematography by Calum Jump
Edited by James Todino
Starring James Todino, Eugenia Caruso, Freddie Almond, Micky Dacks
Short Film Review by Euan Franklin
Arts courses are bloated with short stoner movies. As a film student, I’ve seen my fair share. They usually involve characters smoking weed in a park, talking to strangers who, it turns out, never existed. Then it ends and the student filmmaker’s deep intentions are stripped away to reveal their true lack of imagination. In short film Groovy, filmmaker James Todino dodges these laughable attempts at profundity and throws us into a psychedelic wormhole that is both immersive and ridiculous in equal measure.
Gary Newman (Todino) is a Fine Arts student, who needs to submit his graduate painting before the deadline passes. But he’s stuck in an hallucinatory trance, where all sorts of weird and disturbing obstacles get in his way. Within two minutes, he kicks and kills a dog – believing it to be a Nazi baby. Unfortunately for Gary, in a twist worthy of Martin McDonagh, this dog belongs to a Gangster Boss (Micky Dacks) who seeks a bloody vengeance.
The film is an accelerated experience, similar to other drug-induced movies like Natural Born Killers and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Like both films, Todino and cinematographer Calum Jump electrify every shot with a high aestheticism that could only come from passionate artists. Todino cuts like rapid-fire back-and-forth between disturbing animations and disorientating live-action, sucking us into a surreal world punching at full speed. However, where the animation could win multiple awards, some of the live-action looks like an A-Level Media project. This amateurism feels out-of-place in an otherwise professional environment. It is a wonder why Todino didn’t animate the entire film, since it’s clearly where his passion is strongest.
In spite of this imbalance, there is still much to admire in the live-action. The stylised fight scenes are some of the best I’ve seen in a short film, choreographed with thrills and violence – paying homage to the Crazy-88 sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1. The characters are also vividly drawn, with their idiosyncrasies stunningly exaggerated by Jump’s uncomfortable close-ups and Todino’s punchy editing style.
All the performances possess an absurd amount of craziness, which suggests that the actors are absorbed in the film as much as we are. They never feel half-baked and I can’t see how they could be improved. Dacks sticks out from the rest, playing a character similar to Breaking Bad’s Tuco, but as if directed by David Lynch. He is demented and unpredictable, but his shivering, staccato delivery pulls us into a performance that is both surreal and sinister.
To watch the film is to take the plunge into a violent and colourful Unknown. There are times when Todino abandons the narrative to show off his artistic abilities, but it’s never too obstructive. And although Groovy feels like a Fine Arts project in itself, there is enough story to balance out the aesthetic indulgences. It is not so obscure in its absurdity to discourage further viewings either. Groovy may not be for everyone – but I, on the other hand, could easily take another hit.