“Salvation” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

Stylishly and strikingly directed by Gabrielle Rosson, “Salvation” (2020) brilliantly captures the look and feel of its summer of 1957 setting. Based an original script entitled “Fink” by actor Kris Salvi, the twelve-minute short film never wavers as a masterclass in elegant Martin Scorsese-like mood. Briskly paced and fluently entertaining, the project benefits from the natural on-screen chemistry, likability, and overall marvelous performances from leads Justin Thibault (as Santo) and Salvi (as Salvatore). Further benefitted by often cryptic dialogue, especially in the masterfully done diner sequences which take up the bulk of the effort, Thibault and Salvi command every bit they are in together.

The plot revolves around the consequences of a grim past affecting the present state of long-time friends Salvatore and Santo. Rosson’s rich screenplay takes what could have been a relatively straightforward narrative and gives it intimacy, depth, and complexity. The endeavor never loses its eye on the central figures. Best of all, it smartly develops Salvatore and Santo in a largely banter-driven manner. It is one which is, like the entirety of the attempt, both slick and engaging.

What also helps the work become so magnificent and robust is the colorful, eye-popping cinematography by Manx Magyar. Additionally, Ian Rashkin’s music is superb. It suits the smooth attitude of the exercise terrifically well. Michael Hansen and Rosson’s editing is pitch perfect. The same can be said of Kimmi Monteiro’s set decoration. The fleeting turns from Paul Kandarian as Ciro and Sarah Morse as Bambi are just as effective. The opening, especially the early black and white portion which perfectly reflects the decade appropriate flair of the narrative, and concluding credits are visually remarkable bookends to the undertaking. What is just as noteworthy is the climax of the venture. It is beautiful and violent in equal measure.

In turn, “Salvation” is classy, sophisticated, and brooding. It is a bullseye of talent in front of and behind the camera. Like Rosson’s previous brief picture, “Being Kris Salvi” (2020), it stands as one of the greatest narratives of its type of the year. Similarly, it continues to establish Rosson as a fantastic moviemaker with a firm grasp of the medium. “Salvation” is highly recommended viewing.

“Hand In Hand”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

“Hand In Hand” (2016), a six minute and fifty second short from producer-director Haley McHatton and writer Kris Salvi, is definitive proof of the high-level of dramatic tension that can still be derived from a classic thriller set-up. This design is that of an unhinged man, Mike (in an unflinching and captivating portrayal from Justin Thibault). The account finds him kidnapping his former lover, Anthony (in a gripping and ever-watchable enactment from Salvi), in a jealous rage. After doing so, Mike takes Anthony out into the most abandoned regions of the nearby woods. With a gun pointed at Mike’s head, Anthony commands him to dig his own grave. Such morphs into a fascinating, argumentative speech between the duo. This inevitably unveils pent-up emotions. With these once concealed sentiments also comes a flurry of secrets and suspicions. All of which are rivetingly administered to the audience. This is in a manner that is as cryptic as it is nail-biting. In this discourse, Anthony sees signs of potential weakness in Mike. Anthony senses this feebleness as a chance to take the upper-hand. In so doing, Anthony may have a potential chance to get out of the situation. This is with his life intact.

Such twisty, expository banter forms the pushing force of the chronicle. Credibly and powerfully issued, this item proves to be one of the most suspenseful and enthralling components in its cinematic catalogue. It also showcases how well-delivered lines, which balance unforced character development and gradually tease motivations, can be ruthlessly engaging. This is far more so than the splashy, big budget special effects and overblown action sequences that may be incorporated in a lesser effort of this ilk as a substitute for craftsmanship. A splendidly piqued attribute such as this adds an accruing element of surprise to what could’ve easily been an all too straightforward narrative. Such arrives via Salvi’s gritty, meticulously manufactured and tautly paced script. It is also a courtesy of McHatton’s masterful, wisely uncluttered and focused handling of the material.

These potent articles have an augmented luster. This is when mixed with Mitch Severt’s spectacular cinematography. Severt exposes a bravura capacity to catch the multitude of shades, primarily the dark reds and gentle yellows illuminated from the fallen leaves glimpsed in the backdrop of the exertion. Such transpires in an undeniably immersive, eye-catching and gorgeous fashion. Other natural structures casually spied in the area fare just as wonderfully. For instance, the endless rows of sinewy trees, which also can be viewed as a perfect symbol of the general seclusion of the location, visibly looming behind Mike and Anthony at most moments. Yet, Severt’s work, as beautiful as it is, never defies the no-nonsense, white knuckle atmosphere which is unwaveringly orchestrated throughout the fabrication. Such is certainly a feat worthy of praise. The piece is further enhanced by the proficient and sharp editing from the team of Steve Polakiewicz, Carlo Barbieri and McHatton. Kyle Joyce’s audio is herculean. Jeremy Arruda’s brilliant, Ennio Morricone-esque piano driven score, which sweepingly echoes through the stylish and splendidly erected concluding acknowledgments, splendidly exhibits the technical prowess at hand.

Likewise, the plot, perfect for a single location and extended solo scene undertaking such as this, grips us from Anthony’s attention-garnering, opening quip to Mike. This is: “I guess you didn’t think it  would go down like this, huh? Keep walking”. From herein, the interest and intensity amplifies continuously with each respective frame. Such gives way to a climax that is foreseeable. Yet, it is so well-engineered and resonant that it is easy to look past such comparatively miniscule details. All of this is propelled by authentic, well-etched leads. Our protagonist, Anthony, and antagonist, Mike, are amended great dimension and depth. Consequently, they avoid becoming mere genre archetypes at every turn. Based on the staggering strength of the depictions of these personas, we find ourselves readily seeing and understanding both the measures and reasoning behind the pair we follow on- screen. Such is as much a testament to Salvi’s impactful authorship as it is the same said performances themselves.

The result of this official selection of The Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, and Hatt On Productions presentation, is pure magic. It is a violent tale. Yet, it doesn’t rely solely on its inherent ferocity to weave or sell the fiction. Such is as refreshing as it is rare. Moreover, the exercise organically and competently builds the intrigue of its story. This can also be stated when considering the sly unfurling of events as well as brisk runtime of the endeavor. Such is elucidated without ever overreaching in its successful attempts to convey its message. This is also accurate when pondering its ability to fluently generate intensity. Additionally, the vehicle is slick. This is without ever being so glossy in appearance as to betray the believability it calmly evokes. It is just as smart in its execution. There is a plethora of intelligent creative choices and obvious skill for making fiction demonstrated here. Because of this, “Hand In Hand” serves as an absolute bulls-eye. McHatton, Salvi and crew have constructed an awe-inspiring triumph of simultaneous entertainment value and moving picture dexterity. It is one that fellow bystanders are guaranteed to admire and reflect upon long after their sit down with the arrangement is complete.

“Strawberry Lane” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Strawberry Lane” (2016), the outstanding and enigmatic twenty-three minute and fifteen second debut from writer-directors Jeremy Arruda and Aaron Babcock, is thematically and visually designed to unnerve. Arruda and Babcock have created a living nightmare on celluloid. This is via a collection of sinisterly striking images. All of which, even down to the otherwise simplistic visage of the child’s doll and ventriloquist’s dummy casually spied in the second half, are guaranteed to linger in the subconscious long after they are viewed. The upshot of these brilliantly delivered constituents is undoubtedly an extension of horror in its purest sense. We, the audience, are continually made to feel uncomfortable, apprehensive and alarmed. Yet, we are wholly engaged and intrigued throughout. This is by the notions and scenarios that are unfolding. Likewise, those that could potentially be right around the corner. In an era where most related yarns are more than content to go the safe route, with jump scares and routine motions galore, Arruda and Babcock give us a presentation of credible, sobering and unwavering darkness. It is one that is anything but predictable. The unsettling quote from American serial killer Albert Fish glimpsed in the opening moments set the clinical atmosphere and violent chain of events which are to follow quickly and proficiently.

Adding to the tonal ingenuity at hand, this wonderfully creepy concoction derives heavy inspiration from avant-garde maestro David Lynch, most notably Eraserhead (1977), as well as the chairman of many controversial comedies, John Waters. The eerily erected commencing and closing credits, made increasingly incredible and unflinchingly bizarre by the deliberately old-fashioned music from Arruda, make this point sharply evident. Such augments an endlessly intense, marvelously macabre impression. It is one which pulsates proudly through every frame of the proceedings. Such beautifully mirrors the exploitation features of the 1970’s. This is with Tobe Hooper’s quintessential masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), frequently coming to the forefront. Yet, the anti-heroes that pose as our leads are appropriately repulsive, menacing and impossibly mesmerizing. Such is in the tradition of the best cinematic villains. The duo of murderers who form this uncommon “love story”, as it is declared in the sub-title of the depiction, Harry Meyland (in a performance by Kris Salvi that is terrific) and Billy (in an enactment by Justin Thibault that is just as accomplished as that of Salvi) summon a certain parallel to Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Such iconic entities were found in Jonathan Demme’s Best Picture Academy Award- winning  The Silence of the Lambs (1991). These aforesaid mirrors to the past also provide an undercurrent of nostalgia to the piece. Such makes the overall feel of the labor akin to watching a long-lost classic for the first time.

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All of this is punctuated, memorably and appropriately, by an extended, ardently gut-wrenching and impressive finale. Such readily calls to mind the oft banned invention of fright, Nekromantik (1987), from German auteur Jorg Buttgereit. The combination of these influences results in an artistically satisfying and courageous endeavor. Such is especially true when considering that these sights are set within the haunting, gorgeously gritty cinematography conducted by Babcock. This is also an undeniably potent display of the behind the lens capabilities Arruda and Babcock encompass. Their tough, taut and meticulously paced script, co-authored by Dave Orten, compliments these attributes splendidly. Arruda and Babcock utilize a uniquely fashioned, boldly constructed narrative. It is one that wisely leaves as much to the captivated psyche to ponder as it paints explicitly blood red. The team craft sparsely delivered, but authentic, dialogue. Such casts a painstaking eye for believability in all details of the effort. The plot, which contains just a touch of pulp, is gripping. Such makes the undertaking seamless; a deft exhibition of raw, uncompromising aptitude.

Arruda and Babcock chronicle an unexpected conflict that erupts with the introverted transvestite Harry Meyland. He is a psychotic maniac. More specifically, one who abducts and slaughters the women of the local Magdalene Escort Service. This act is made more dangerous by the fact that it is where he is employed. All the while, the near demonic sounding voice of his mother (exceptionally issued by Arruda) guides him along. Yet, he encounters a grave challenge. This is as Billy, who delights in the same fatal indulgences, takes Harry’s work into his own hands. What starts as a competition between Harry and Billy soon evolves into a strange affinity; one that is as strangely absorbing and twisted as the fiction itself.

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The composition also benefits from other various components that are just as attention-garnering. Crystal Correa is phenomenal as Trisha. Geneve Lanouette is just as astounding in her turn as The Captive Woman. Carlo Barbieri III, Arruda and Kristen McNulty play Masked Figure 1-3 respectively. Their presence is unforgettable. They are seen fleetingly in an assembly of surprising instances which are heavily reminiscent of Bryan Bertino’s criminally underrated The Strangers (2008). Such apparently random illustrations hypnotically reinforce the brute, jarring strength of the visuals herein. A death sequence that transpires in the beginning minutes, worthy of Hitchcock in conception and delivery, only reaffirm this trait. Such is greatly enhanced by the slickly constructed editing Arruda and Babcock invoke.

Shot over the course of two years, this Zeta Wave Productions release is guaranteed to be a new favorite of fellow genre addicts. More importantly, it signifies the arrival of a tremendous pair of filmmakers. Both of whom have an obvious admiration for and wide-reaching knowledge of the history of moving picture terror. Best of all, they are equally versed in how to evoke fear and confidently, expertly project it on-screen. “Strawberry Lane” confirms this at every turn. The outcome of this is an astonishing tour de force; a brief affair that is far more satisfying, evocative and in-depth than most full-length exertions. That only offers further proof of their photographic command. Because of this, I greatly anticipate what gruesome marvels Arruda and Babcock bring to life in upcoming collaborations.

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