The Target List
12 Aug 2021
Andrew Arguello and MJ Palo
MJ Palo and John Reizer
Jessica Culaciati, Holly Lorge, Charlie Manoukian
Big Pharma have certainly improved their reputation over the last 18 months, what with the world-saving vaccination business and whatnot. The Target List is an action-thriller that reminds us that these shadowy firms have a serious malevolent side.
At a press conference, Donna (Jessica Culaciati), the CEO of medical company WAND, announces a revolutionary technology that holds the key to curing cancer. Her colleagues Shane (Charlie Manoukian) and Clyde (Jude Ault) are concerned that the announcement is coming too early – and could lead to backlash from big pharma who may feel their profits are under threat. Their fears are well founded – as in secret, shadowy corporations have enlisted a team of assassins to track down the WAND team to prevent the technology seeing the light of day.
As a short pilot for a potential feature length project, The Target List is a tricky film to review. The film is far from the finished product, with the story beginning and ending suddenly. What we are presented with is clearly extracted from a longer and more developed script – the sample effectively setting up the film’s premise, key themes and tone. However, the short itself concludes right as pivotal and shocking plot developments take place – quite unsatisfying for viewers of the pilot alone but an effective hook for a larger project. It’s harsh to give marks against this short because of this, but audiences should be prepared not to receive the whole story.
Thematically the film tackles issues of corporate corruption and the ruthless pursuit of money over life-saving innovation. The film initially seems to sway between presenting the WAND team as in over their hands (or even presenting a faulty, Theranos-style scam), and the team being revolutionaries who are hunted by vicious profiteers of the old order. The former is ditched within the short’s runtime for the latter, which is a shame as the angle that not all is as it seems at WAND is intriguing and gives the film an extra complexity. Again, it is hard to judge this fairly knowing there is more to the story, but it is a shame the film abandons some of these elements as the action takes over.
The ensemble cast are largely fine and get sufficient time to establish their characters. Jessica Culaciati and Charlie Manoukian’s scientists ground the film, each bringing a humanity to their roles. Jude Ault’s eccentric Clyde is much more cartoonish and higher-strung – the classic conspiracy-theorist-proven-right. We never see any of the assassins who hunt the cast, but given that we know Dan Bailey’s fearsome Bruno appears to be directing them, it is easy to get a sense of their threat. The characterisation is a strong point of this pilot, and bodes well for a full-length offering.
Production quality is mixed, with sharp and professional cinematography mixed with impressive set design to elevate what could have been a much laxer pilot into a short film that stands on its own with genuine quality. There are some missteps though, with visual effects seriously lacking – especially in a scene with an explosion – on which the cameras seem to linger for an unnecessarily long time. These unconvincing moments would have been better represented with innovative camerawork which would hopefully be resolved in a full version.
The Target List manages to hit the goal of any pilot – in that it leaves the viewer wanting more. It has a solid set-up and brings interesting ideas to the table, which would hopefully be explored in-depth in a full-length version of the story. With a few kinks ironed out, this could be an intriguing medical thriller.