Staring Back - Short Film Review


Written & Directed by: #JessicaDawnWillis

Starring: #AprilHartman, #JohnBergsten, #MitchMcLeod

Short Film Review by Taryll Baker

Poster for Staring Back

Written and Directed by Jessica Dawn Willis for a budget of $1000, Staring Back is a dramatic thriller inspired by the case of Brock Turner.

Beginning with the main title against a black screen, Staring Back immediately cuts to an establishing shot of a knife, picking at fingernails. Setting the stage very early on, director Jessica Dawn Willis throws the viewer straight into a hostage situation. With visual set-ups ready to be paid off later in the film, and gritty cinematography keeping the dark tone, Staring Back is — visually, at the least — a very pleasing production. The short film has several strong elements.

Firstly, cinematographer and editor Carlos Garcia Jr. is capturing the action very well. There aren’t many fast cuts, but rather lingering shots that really allow the performers to deliver. Unfortunately, said performers aren’t so convincing on a consistent basis. That said, Mitch McLeod seems to appear the most experienced if only for his more intense performance. April Hartman and John Bergsten are both terrific throughout the majority of the short, but some of the writing perhaps pulled them back from being their best. All three are likeable actors, however, and I’m certain with more experience they’ll be well on their way to the glowing lights of Hollywood.

The suitably tense and moody music score by Sean Ephram is a little intruding during one particular moment due to the mixing, but like many other independently funded projects, this is to be expected. The music itself is fantastic and fitting for the story. Seemingly understanding when and when not to use an underscore, which is a tricky skill to grasp. A little more care on the volume level during *that* scene — without spoiling, it involves some cutting — would certainly heighten the immersion. Zach Broyles’s sound design is incredibly basic, but that’s good. Using the ambience of the room, recorded by Austin Dugger, creates a very fickle atmosphere. Again, I like to see more care taken on the mixing and audio levels just so everything is consistent.

Staring Back is a great little film. Plenty of things for viewers to pick up on, and the ending is rewarding. The visual set-ups are a nice touch and subconsciously brought to the attention whilst watching. I enjoy the simple things, especially when executed well, so this film definitely delivered in that area. Short and thrilling with a twist, Staring Back is a solid outing from writer and director Jessica Dawn Willis.

Watch the trailer for Staring Back here.