28 Dec 2021
Craig Vaden II, Bret Tencheira, Ken Krauss
Having smashed the box office recently, audiences who loved Denis Villeneuve’s Dune may find enjoyment in this latest short film from writer/director Peter Dorn-Ravlin (see also Ruben and Ethel). With clear inspiration from the Dune movies and books, as well as other sci-fi hits like Star Trek and Star Wars, Dust Angel packs a whole lotta desert-based adventure into its 23-minute run time.
Craig Vaden II plays Damion, a soldier who we meet early on flying a spaceship solo and thumbing a photograph of his wife and kid. His subsequent foraging on a mysterious planet leads him into the path of a masked warrior (Bret Tencheira) and the two engage in an action-packed fight sequence that includes laser guns, swords, and good old-fashioned knuckle dusters. Soon after, we are giving more details as to why the pair are fighting and what has happened on this peculiar planet.
You can immediately tell when a metric tonne of passion has been poured into a project and the filmmakers behind Dust Angel showcase that within the first few minutes of their short film. It is clearly a work of pure devotion to the genre, with a strong admiration for their forbearers.
It’s an ambitious and at times enthralling short that achieves a lot.
The use of real and super-imposed locations is obvious but not a problem, as aren’t the special effects that range somewhere between Red Dwarf and South Park. They are a lot of fun, actually, and give the film a genuine sense of creative flair. The various ships that appear are intricate and, whilst crudely delivered, inject a sense of science fiction theatre that really adds to the piece.
The performances are sturdy, with a lot of time dedicated to the fighting which was impressively choreographed. The dialogue scenes felt quite wooden, with one character masked and the other talking through their mind it didn’t give the actors much scope to really shine. This, paired with an underdelivered premise, made Dust Angel feel more like the first chapter in a feature, rather than a standalone short film.
As the audience is enlightened with more details of the story behind the worlds we see in the film, a few meatier themes emerge - such as the yin and yang of war and peace, or the instinctual violent human nature which prevents the latter from ever being realised. These ideas only flicker onto the film’s radar before disappearing though and would have been something viewers may have wanted to see more of.
What’s clear with Dust Angel is that the filmmakers wanted to embrace all aspects of the genre, without making harsh sacrifices due to budget limitations. It would have been easy to just have two characters talking in one location and just reference the “futuristic world” in which they stood. Instead, audiences are treated to a smorgasbord of visual treats, from flying spaceships to laser fights, and the result is impressively entertaining if you are willing to accept the crudeness which comes to special effects when they don’t have Denis’ 165 million USD budget.