Shorts Directed By: Anna Nolskog, Christopher Brown, Lazlo and Dylan Tonk, Charlie Francis, Dean Connolly, Casper Andreas, Neil Ely, Tim Marshall, Leslie Bumgarner, Philip J.Connell
After months of not having any Boys on Films to review, Pecca Pics released anthology #13 this summer and, after tackling them individually (and then trying to promote my own blog for a couple of months), I am back to once again give you a brief overview of the highs and lows in the collection and ultimately try and persuade you (or should I trick you?) to indulge a little and have a little… treat.
If you’ve read my previous collective reviews on Movie Marker, then you will be aware that I try to delve into the subtitle of the anthologies and use that as a basis to judge the films – after all, they’re being presented as a whole. What immediately springs to mind with ‘Trick & Treat’ is Halloween, i.e. trick or treat, though I will assure you now – this is not kid friendly and has nothing to do with Halloween! To me it symbolises that life isn’t always about this or that, yin or yang, right or wrong. On paper it may appear that you can only have one or that there is only one option, but in real life there are a myriad of situations and experiences which typically have positive and negative sides to them. So, with that in mind, let’s delve into Boys on Film once more.
Easing us in (or not) is Surprise – which flips the ‘coming out’ story on its head (though I really don’t want to give away much). What I will say is that it’s about time there were some fresh takes on it. After all, it is 2015! Back to the short – what it boils down to is that Jack and his mother both have things to confess to one another. One thing is definitely negative and the other is positive… but there’s a slight catch – in line with the subtitle and what I said, this is real life. Beyond it being a surprising short and fitting effortlessly with the anthology theme, its well-paced, with well-defined characters and some great dialogue. The dynamic between the two characters not only gives you a sense of who they are now, but also their past. It felt genuine and believable, which is probably why I found certain lines funny. One certain line has to be censored but, as the last piece of dialogue, I hope it intrigues you enough to load it up; “I called your girlfriend a c@!#”.
What I didn’t mention about Surprise is that there is a lot of water imagery going on (to which I am still clueless) and you might just need some water to cool off after watching Boygame. It’s a stimulating short that explores the limits we have when wanting to help a friend out and gain experience ourselves – you know what I’m talking about. Though my own experience was never quite like this, I know that it comes with risks. For teens with all the self-discovery and hormones it can push the friendship into a weird zone, where suddenly that nice thing you did for one another can either fester into a treat or into something dark and ugly – a trick.
Boygame portrays this with a fine balance, not being overtly sexual or dramatic and still retaining some awkward boyish charm. The characters are believable, with their focus being to get girls, as all straight teens do; even if that has meant that they blur the lines of their friendship. To me there is something bubbling underneath the surface. Yes, it appears that their efforts will pay off but there are subtleties in the performances and construction of the dialogue which play into the fluidity of sexuality and the development of the friendship. Maybe they have suppressed their feelings for one another and their true sexuality for fear of losing the other (after all, “straight” guys don’t talk). Either way, these boys share a deep bond which is clear from beginning to end, even if that bond has changed.
Caged is rather similar to Boygame, with its focus on two friends living in a straight male dominated environment, but Caged delves deeper and explores a wider scope. It addresses the turmoil someone might feel when faced with the realisation that their best friend is gay – the feeling of betrayal, ulterior motives and the social exclusion. All of these apparent issues are because of the ‘alpha-male’ and bigoted opinions. The friend now feels conflicted. It’s believable. I feel that I over use that word but how else can I say that it feels natural – even though it’s not a situation I’ve experienced. What I liked most was the use of running (a shared hobby) to symbolise the stages of the friendship; from running together, to refusing to share water, to running solo and then, a tingly moment, back to running together. Maybe I should have said SPOILER ALERT, but didn’t anyone tell you that it’s the journey not the destination that’s important? Okay, major cliché there but it’s true and ultimately true love, whether between friends or family, can over come everything – we are who we are, and Caged shines a light on the beauty of that.
Continuing the friendship plot point is Vis á Vis; a short film that, despite being a comedy, has a life lesson for us all – sometimes you have to let go. Letting go is part of life and, ultimately, leads to better, new and exciting things. Obviously that’s ignoring emotions (which in reality are hard to) and determination to win someone back – cue this short about a friend helping another friend by deceiving the government and committing fraud; how wonderful – what a trick to play! Ultimately though there is a happy ending, though maybe not the one you think – time is a healer. What a thoroughly heart-warming message to send out, eh! It’s also actually funny too, whether it’s Ricky Martin, Wikipedia never lies or quick (if poor) thinking Martin claiming that he wears lace knickers – hmm. It’s a solid bundle where the tone, atmosphere and dialogue build up awkwardness tension and, strangely, sincerity. You’ll find it hard not to smile.
Breaking the two guys’ friendship plot point is, surprisingly, Followers. I’m not entirely sure how to fit this into the anthology – there’s a lot of Christian religious iconography and imagery so, despite the pagan roots, the short fits in a roundabout way, seeing that faith is central to the plot development. There was however something missing and, though the short is well produced, it didn’t wow me. I didn’t connect to it, so maybe there is more to the characters and relationships that I overlooked and would define its purpose in Boys on Film: Trick & Treat.
More in line with the shorts before Followers is Kissing Drew – which takes us back to the conflicting time of pubescent crushing and hormones; the ultimate ‘Trick & Treat’ time of life. Through the creative use of sound, colour and lighting, Kissing Drew depicts parallel situations – reality and fantasy. Reality is the dark side of things, where everything is a trick, a lie or deception whereas the fantasy is bright and lovely, where deception fades into desire and James gets what he wants. It’s an insight into where the mindsets of the teens in Boygame developed or the roots of the actions seen in Caged. There is a clear sense of progression and character development which, despite the sense of something about to happen, led to a complete shocker… which may have unintended side effects, both good and bad.
Now things are getting serious. This isn’t a comedy. This isn’t about coming out. A Last Farewell is heart-wrenching. It’s one of those shorts that you just need to watch; to ignore my words and truly let yourself connect with it. But you’re reading this so I guess I’ll just continue then. So, I can’t delve in without a spoiler alert – it addresses assisted suicide. You could say, maybe not with the words ‘Trick & Treat’, is the theme pushed to its limits. Imagine getting to a point whereby you love someone so much that you sacrifice the relationship and your life together to end their suffering. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s an issue that is rarely seen in film and an issue which regularly features within the media.
It’s difficult for me to find fault with a film that opens my eyes, stirs emotion and stimulates thoughts. Not only that, but there is a beautiful effortlessness where everything seems to work together, in harmony, to really hit home the decision the lead character made and the effect it has had on him and the problems coming to terms with it is having. Where it is the honest yet moving performances, well thought camera shorts or brilliantly executed dialogue, this short is stellar.
The major problem with Middle Man is that I watched something similar not too long ago that was much funnier. As a result, the humour in Middle Man doesn’t quite hit any high and it might have stuck out more if it stuck to the drama – especially with the ending, which lacked the punch it needed.
So, where is the ‘Trick & Treat’ you ask? Well, I suppose it lies with the middle man software that deaf people can use to communicate. Though it is a useful tool (though you could just text?) it removes all emotion and accountability, which can lead to confusion, or in this case, deception – that’s a huge downside to something that is meant to help the less able.
Remission takes a combination of plot points we’ve seen in other shorts and throws them into a post-apocalypse scenario, namely two friends who end up being sexual (out of necessity it seems). Is that the point that admits its inclusion? “Hey, I’m straight but there are no girls around, let’s fuck – it’s satisfying but I actually hate it”? Or is it the occasional focus on the small treats in this baron world that is the reason? Either way, I feel that it doesn’t live up to the potential it has after the first scene where a promising dynamic is set up between the three characters. It was a while after the opening until the screen came to life and you got drawn in again.
There were also issues with audio levels and a sense of disbelief – that music player would not know you’re coming and probably wouldn’t work! I wish we didn’t have to end on Mirrors but I can’t ignore it. It didn’t work for me and I don’t particularly wish to re-watch it to find out or think about the theme of ‘Trick & Treat’.
So boys and girls, what will it be; trick or treat? Well there’s no need To decide because hopefully Trick & Treat has made you realize that life is too complicated to reduce down to this and that, and you shouldn’t always try and make it about something or the other. Though, there are some things that should obviously not be combined – mainly food/drink. I’m getting off point now, reign me in! The shorts in this anthology have explored a range of issues from a mother coming out to her son to assisted suicide – it feels thoroughly modern; very 2015 (but not in a way that will feel dated).
Yes, I admit that the overall quality isn’t up there with the likes of Boys on Film 12: Confessions, or even earlier anthologies such as Boys on Film 4: Protect Me From What I Want, but the ones that stand out truly make it stand out. Forget Mirrors, forget Middle Man and forget Followers – focus on Boygame, Caged and A Last Farewell and experience the best that short LGBT+ cinema has to offer.