After The Beep
Jan 12, 2023
As someone who feels awkward even just ordering a chippy over the phone, Ryan Nunes’ After the Beep gave me second-hand anxiety galore. This bite-sized, straightforward-yet-layered short film is a brilliant expression of anxiety and unrequited familial love.
Jake (Ryan Nunes) sits alone at his kitchen table sometime during Christmastime, fretting over calling his estranged father to wish him well during the holidays. Over numerous aborted attempts at leaving a message on his answering machine, the viewer comes to learn of revelations about the pair’s relationship, including deep-seated resentment on Jake’s part for his father’s abandonment and his father’s current life with a new family which Jake feels no part of. But other messages make clear Jake’s resilient love for his dad. After a series of practices, Jake decides a direct call might be a better way to convey his complex feelings.
Running just under 4 minutes, After the Beep is short even by short film standards. Yet the format it uses to tell its story and build its 2 characters (one of whom is never seen nor heard from) is ingenious in its simplicity. Jake’s quickfire messages of varying tone and content manage to detail an entire family history between himself and his father and build both men as complex, troubled characters who remain relatable to the audience. Jake’s anxiety and leftover trauma from abandonment weave in and out with a bold and diplomatic desire to build a relationship built on mutual respect with his dad in adulthood. His tone on the one-sided calls – ranging from meekly hoping for a response to aggressively lambasting his dad demonstrate the instability and illogical way human emotions work when family and those we love are involved. It’s a genuinely impressive and novel expression from director and star Nunes.
Nunes’ performance itself is impressive in its baseline – understated but with hints of Jake’s volatile emotional state bubbling under the surface. The mood shift between the calls is intentionally jarring and shocking, to the point that it may actually create a more psychotic tone than the director intended. However as it becomes clearer that the film’s timeframe is flexible, audiences will switch to becoming empathetic to Jake’s emotional highs and lows. There are occasional moments where the dialogue utilises minor cliched phrases which impact a little on the authenticity of Nunes’ otherwise visceral and natural performance, but these are few and far between and are generally a jumping-off point for their scene.
The framing of scenes supplements the storytelling impressively and demonstrates Nunes’ skills as a director as well as actor. Beginning with Jake positioned off-centre, before he readjusts and is framed centrally as the content of his calls heats up is an impactful choice demonstrating his growing commitment, confidence and intensity in confronting his father. Primarily shot in black and white as an obvious metaphor for coldness and isolation, the vibrant injection of bright, radiant colours at the film’s conclusion demonstrates the uncontrollable, overpowering warmth Jake feels as he calls his father – brilliantly followed by a subtle but noticeable tinting of the colours as he regains some emotional control right before the film ends. The film doesn’t really demonstrate the film’s key holiday setting other than in dialogue – perhaps intentionally to establish Jake’s isolation given the film takes place entirely in his apartment. But it does feel like an opportunity was missed to visually signify this key detail – even in a more creative way than by showing a Christmas tree.
Straightforward-yet-brilliant, After the Beep shows how simple injecting emotion and building characters can be. And given its rapid runtime, it deserves as many viewings as anxiety-triggering abandoned calls.