Written & Directed by: #CarlosGarciaJr
Short Film Review by: #ChrisBuick
On a cold and misty morning, somewhere deep in the woods (God only knows how deep), a young girl falls hard onto the wintry ground before her and judging by her dirt-smeared face and ruined clothing, not for the first time that day. Allowing herself just one terrified look back, she quickly scrambles back to her feet, running like the Devil himself is chasing her. Sadly, it’s not long until the pursuing group of youths hot on her heels finally have her in their grasp, ready to play out whatever horrifically gruesome, ritualistic plan they have in store for her, all before school starts.
According to first time writer/director Carlos Garcia Jr., Heathens in its current short form is intended simply as a precursor to a much bigger and bolder idea, something the filmmaker hopes can come to fruition through crowd-funding. This can be a tricky tight-rope to walk; the #shortfilm must of course still deliver on its own merits, while also finding the right balance of not giving too much away yet revealing just enough to leave us wanting more.
In this case, Heathens manages to just about get the balance right, even if it is extremely lean on any plot or character specifics. It’s a film that manages to raise a hefty amount of questions in its nine-minute runtime, yet we find ourselves coming out the other side pretty empty-handed in terms of answers. Who are these kids? What exactly are they doing and why are they doing it? We learn next to nothing about any of these individuals or their motivations, and most of the cast have little of note to do most of the time. But while there is a small risk this could frustrate a handful to the point of disinterest, somehow this proof of concept piece still manages to create enough intrigue and mythos in the world it does build that most viewers would probably be happy to come back for a closer look.
How it manages to achieve this is two-fold. First is the wickedly charismatic performance from Stephanie Oustalet as head deviant Lena, terrifying of course in her high-octane moments of bat-swinging rage but somehow even more so when simply pulling the strings as the soft-spoken puppet-master of this band (cult?) of loyal followers, she is captivating to watch and a character well worth expansion.
Secondly and most importantly, is how technically impressive this film is pretty much across the board. And not just that it looks and sounds great (which it really does), but it’s how everything is used to such full effect that it somehow manages to elevate every other aspect of the film. A harmonious combination of location and lighting, clever editing and assured camerawork, it is an extremely well-constructed piece but a special mention must be made for the incredible score from Michael Vignola, which just takes the whole project to another level.
Could it have perhaps given us a little more in terms of exposition without completely letting us behind the curtain? Almost definitely. But perhaps that's just impatience. What’s clear is that Heathens certainly has a lot of fertile ground to explore should it get its chance at a bigger narrative. And it should.
Watch the trailer here: