By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Director Christopher Di Nunzio (2011’s “Her Heart Still Beats”, 2015’s A Life Not to Follow) continues to astound with his fifteen minute short film from 2014, “Under the Dark Wing”. Released through Creepy Kid Productions this is a darkly poetic, hypnotic and utterly unique take on the paranormal tale. This brilliant work, which plays like a combination of Ingmar Bergman and Martin Scorsese, is enriched by Nolan Yee’s gorgeous black and white cinematography. Further enhancing the visual appeal of this already dazzling endeavor is Di Nunzio’s masterful direction. In particular, his apparently effortless knack for framing alluring shots. Alongside this, Di Nunzio summons mesmerizing angles which heighten the sense of claustrophobia, always a necessity for thrillers such as these, on-screen. An extended conversation in a secluded area, an office of sorts, between Johnny Boy (a riveting, nuanced performance by Fiore Leo) and George (in a portrayal by David Graziano which is suitably menacing and extraordinary), which takes up most of the first half of the effort, are where such touches are most evident. But, it is also present in a beautifully rendered moment where Johnny Boy walks cautiously through a field, his left hand extended before us as if guiding, as the camera treads scant inches away from the young man. This is all a compelling build-up to coming face to face with The Girl (a fascinating enactment by Jessy Rowe which exhibits the character’s underlying currents of power and vulnerability spectacularly well). Di Nunzio also captures the isolation of the characters, and the region in which they dwell, with shots of largely empty streets and abandoned buildings. Such elements immerse us in the mind of Johnny Boy, as he treads through them in the affair’s earliest moments, instantly. These are all indicators of the high-arena of technical conception Di Nunzio and his crew are laboring at throughout.
The narrative revolves around Johnny Boy, who claims to have been drug free for a year, returning to his boss, George. Frustrated, Johnny Boy relates the failure of his past job, where he was supposed to slaughter a C.E.O., to the presence of a young girl. But, when an enigmatic female figure begins to find her way into the lives of the two: George is blind-sided by the idea of the profit she could bring in. Immediately afterward George and Johnny Boy begin to realize that the fate they thought they had a firm hold of could be in someone else’s hands entirely.
“Under the Dark Wing” grabs ahold of our attention immediately, with a sharply done title scene, punctuated by the exclamatory clattering of bells, and concludes on a just as impressive climactic note. The piece is propelled by cryptic, noir-like dialogue. It is also fashioned with a non-stop pace that is both quick yet, authentic and brooding. Not only does this tighten the already wire-like grip on underlying suspense Di Nunzio has fabricated but, it adds heightened style, menace and intrigue to an already white-knuckle horror effort. What mechanizes just as tremendously to its acclaim is that it unveils a manner to develop its characters cleverly, through wordplay and ominous, poetic and visually stunning images that never shatter the tense guise hovering over the entirety of the project. Furthermore, they never seem artificial. This is as much a testament to Di Nunzio’s masterful guidance of the exertion as it is the intelligent, beautifully constructed screenplay he penned, from a story Di Nunzio (who has an uncredited role as the Dead C.E.O. in this venture) is solely attributed with conceiving, with Pedro Alvarado.
Di Nunzio, among his many prodigious contributions here, gives us music that is cloaked in temperament, perfect for the material and only adds to the classic veneer which hangs over the proceedings. He also contributes editing which is proficient, seamless and as eloquently crafted as the endeavor itself. The involvement from the rest of the crew is just as spectacular. Special make-up effects artist, Jessica Van-Winkle, does an astounding job with her respective participation. Boom-operator/ sound-recordist, Laura Grose, delivers sound that is crisp and alive. Alex Huang’s camera influence is terrific. Keith Bennet, who appears in the role of The Thug, is gripping. He makes an incredible impression with his brief time on-screen.
With “Under the Dark Wing” and the feature film he created one year later, A Life Not to Follow, Di Nunzio has proven that, not only he has absolutely mastered the creation of mature, grimly stunning and thoughtful thrillers. His characters are credibly etched, a vigorous facet which makes him stand triumphantly above the legion of those who toil in similar genres with antagonists and protagonists practically indecipherable from similar cinematic ventures. His stories walk the ledge of reality so well that we, the audience, never have any problem believing what our eyes are seeing. Not only is this because of the impeccable way he develops the personalities on-screen but, because he puts them first and makes us care for them all. It is a feat that many attempt but, few can pull off in such a consistently entertaining manner. Di Nunzio is an astonishing filmic auteur and “Under the Dark Wing” is every bit as tremendous as the other entries in his varied catalogue.