Directed by Graeme Willetts
Starring Russell Biles and Paul Holbrook
Short Film Review by Leonardo Goi
Graeme Willetts’s Puppy Love takes the short film form to the extreme. It builds up like a harrowing thriller, ends with a comedic twist that is as baffling as its misleading title, stirs up a discomforting mixture of dread and relief, and does all the above in the space of two minutes. It should not be praised for its technical merits alone (and reasons for praise there abound) but for the way it challenges the art-form in which it is presented.
Its title notwithstanding, Puppy Love is the exact opposite of a sloppy tale. It follows the quest of a 50-something year old sexual predator (Russell Biles) as he uses a fake Facebook account to attract and meet up with unsuspecting underage girls. After promising a young Katie some free booze, he sets up a meeting at the local park, only to realise his prey is quite the opposite of what he’d expected.
The rendezvous cuts the short in half. Willetts builds the first part inside what would appear to be the man’s studio, and Sam Morgan Moore’s lensing does a great job at building up the tension, with the green and blue palette painting the whole place as if it were a toxic and claustrophobic wasteland. The camera shifts intermittently from Biles’s face to his laptop’s screen, and the words his Facebook alias Harry exchanges with Katie are the kind you’d expect a teenage boy caught in the midst of a hormonal storm would use to seduce a naïve girl of the same age – and the accuracy and credibility that ensue are courtesy of Lucy V. Hay’s script editing.
But where Puppy Love arguably works best is through its impeccable sound design. If so much tension is built in the short’s first half (that is, in the space of one minute) this is also very much thanks to a haunting score that makes it possible to soak in the atmosphere rather than keep it at arm’s length. And while credits for the short’s score go to Hollie Buhagiar, it would not be unsurprising if Willetts – who holds a substantial career as a sound recordist - provided an uncredited contribution of his own.
Despite the topic it deals with, Puppy Love achieves no small feat: it condemns paedophilia without turning into a public warning message against it. And this is perhaps its greatest merit. Willetts directs a short that exposes the malice of online predators, but resists the temptation of giving in to an excessively normative and moral tone that could have killed the short’s rhythm.
The end result is a delightful two-minute gem aspiring filmmakers should take a close look at. Sometimes a feature can take a very short time to turn into a memorable watch. This is one of those fortunate cases.