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Ten With a Flag

average rating is 4 out of 5


James Learoyd


Posted on:

Jul 7, 2024

Film Reviews
Ten With a Flag
Directed by:
Vasco Alexandre
Written by:
Joe Capps, Haines Joseph Paul
Bryan Moriarty, Julie Martis, Julia Winwood, Adam Barnett

Ten With a Flag has an undoubtedly clear vision. I don't just mean it has a high concept... its tone, mood and design all work in tandem to elevate the dystopia being depicted. With some entertaining Orwellian concepts and a genuinely frightening conclusion, this level of consistency is not always so common in low-budget science-fiction. For the most part, the performances - which hold that bizarre Yorgos Lanthimos cadence - are watchable and layered. The same can be said about the story which, despite its indulging in the classic tropes, arguably does so with skill and restraint. Based in an authoritarian/1984-type world, the film centers around a pregnant woman and her spouse who discover that their unborn child has been labeled a 'ten'. It's a starting point which leads to some interesting discussion of class, governmental oppression, monetary value - all the classics. With the help of precise pacing, we remain engaged in the story and its characters, even if we may already be privy to some of its plot conventions.


In terms of cinematography, the short is operating at a competent, even high, level. Particularly admirable is the range of focal lengths implemented as well as the use of the interior spaces to craft and complement the images. However, the film's use of wide-screen is slightly troubling and not always successful. One understands the intentionality, as sci-fi definitely belongs in that aspect ratio, but the manner in which the piece was shot suggests that this may not have been the plan from the outset. This becomes noticeable when subjects' faces are composed strangely or when certain objects are jarringly cut out of frame. It's unfortunate that the wide-screen format is never used to create depth or incorporate multiple subjects onscreen (on each side of the frame, for instance). Having been filmed in 16:9 and presumably composed by the cinematographer for that aspect ratio, you can't help but feel that the black bars detract from the visual information we're receiving. This is my only real complaint and certainly the only aesthetic issue with the movie.


On a narrative level, the piece is quite elegant. I would like to draw attention to the third act which is truly effective. It consists of a scene in which a character is killed; it’s not just the best moment in the film, but it’s also emblematic of how to strike terror into your audience. The magic trick in this instance is holding on the reaction shot of the individual who isn’t being attacked – the emotional intensity of their silent response gives us all we need. A work which understands its limitations - and how to stretch and manipulate them - is a sign of a strong artistic presence. The decision not to cut to the action is also a lot more unsettling and urges the viewer to fully consider the implications of what we hear offscreen.


As stated, there is a lot to admire in Ten With a Flag. Not only does the short create tension, but it also takes on the great task of crafting a world with a unique internal logic. It does so successfully due to its distinctive stylistic voice; characteristics such as the monotone delivery and the ambitious set design grounds the viewer in an idiosyncratic but not all that unbelievable reality. While not without flaw, I would highly recommend this film to a science-fiction enthusiast.

About the Film Critic
James Learoyd
James Learoyd
Short Film
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