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Films can sustain an audience on a good story, good
characters and a solid premise. We enjoy films best when we want to suspend our
disbelief and actively want to buy in to what the filmmakers are showing us, while forgiving technical limitations and other foibles if our goodwill has been
purchased with compelling hooks and smart setup.
Such is the case with our latest short, ROOMMATES, brought
to us by Ottawa’s Kevin Preece. When I began watching, I really didn’t know what
I was in for, as Preece keeps things refreshingly mysterious. In what seems to be a mismatched trio of roommates setup straight out of a
sitcom—complete with a “who drank the last of the milk and left the container
in the fridge” schtick—a gun is introduced, and our eyes begin to open to the
possibility that all isn’t well in the world these roommates are living in. Their circumstances aren’t something from an episode of FRIENDS.
Preece skillfully delivers these visual cues, doling them
out in a cadence that has the reality of their domestic situation creep
up on us. It’s a great dramatic use of the old storytelling maxim “show, don’t
tell” and the result is satisfying when all the pieces come together.
I’m not inclined to spoil the fun here, but I was really
entertained by the reveal of the premise. I thought it was novel and required
me to engage my own imagination to fill in the gaps Preece wisely leaves. Art that engages the viewer's own perceptions is often the strongest and
most compelling. It’s a collaboration of sorts between artist and audience; a
meeting of minds that ensures the piece is unique to all who see it.
The length of the film is just right as well, it left me wanting
to see more about what happened. Honestly, I think this would make for a great
web series; five minute episodes serialized weekly would make for wonderful serial viewing, provided the filmmakers continue to write scripts like this.
ROOMMATES does have its issues though, and I want to talk
about them so I can illustrate my point about storytelling.
I found the FX to be fairly weak and one prop in particular kind of irked me - but here is my point: I
didn’t mind at all. I overlooked it and suspended my disbelief because I wanted
to believe. The story and the characters were illustrated in a way that made me
forgive the rough spots. I don’t think you'll find many examples where the reverse
is true, and tremendous special effects made an audience forgive bad
storytelling and weak characters. All the effects magic money could buy didn't help George Lucas with the STAR WARS prequels. In fact, the only movie I can
think of off the top of my head that had its effects make me somewhat overlook
a hackneyed story and silly cliché characters was AVATAR, and that just came off
as a cynical and manipulative.
So the lesson here, mutant filmmakers of the new era, is
simple, but bears repeating over and over. Tell a good story, give us
compelling characters we care about and interesting worlds for them to live in.
Your audience will forgive you for not having a million dollar FX budget, but they will never forgive an uninspired story.
The film is included in the OTTAWA HORROR: VOLUME 1 DVD collection from the group Ottawa Horror. If you enjoyed ROOMMATES, visit their site and consider picking up a copy of the DVD, it's worth every penny as there are some fantastic indie horror gems on there, showcasing the kick ass indie talent from the capital of Soviet Canuckistan. You can also follow them on Twitter @Ottawahorror.
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Long Live the New Flesh
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