By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****
From the opening moments of director Mark Battle and Sweven Films’ hauntingly beautiful twenty-three minute short, “Here Lies Joe”, a riveting tonal balance of melancholy, peppered with effective humor and an ebbing sense of optimism, is brilliantly established. We watch our lead, whose name is referenced in the title of the piece (rivetingly played by Dean Temple in a performance that is always watchable, absolutely perfect for the material and showcases his incredible abilities by speaking volumes through frequently sorrowful facial gestures) taping up the windows of his beat-up car, full of books and family photographs, in an attempt at ending his life. This sequence lasts but a minute. Regardless, it immediately pulls us into Joe’s world. This early bit is so triumphant at doing so that we instantly care for and desperately want to learn more about this lonely soul.
This segment is just the first of many such smart moves on Battle’s behalf. Such decisions result in a towering achievement. It is one which reaches its sentimental zeniths through the lens of credibility and realism. Such is presented through its continued emphasis on sheer subtlety. This occurs in both characterization and in the way the entire endeavor is crafted. These factors, thanks to the gorgeous and perfectly suited for the overall atmosphere attributes of Battle’s superb cinematography, ravishingly compliment the atmosphere and the narrative impeccably well.
The story, dazzlingly constructed by both Pamela Conway and Battle, concerns Joe meeting an unpredictable young woman known as ‘Z’ (in a portrayal by Andi Morrow that is every bit as intriguing, well-honed and fantastic as Temple’s) at a Suicide Anonymous meeting. This is one headed by Bill (Timothy J. Cox in another of the many magnificent enactments herein). He is a self-proclaimed “suicide addict”. In this same sequence we also meet several other immediately gripping personalities. For instance, Joe is confronted by Carol (a presentation by Mary Hronicek that is both exceptional and charismatic) who believes her fish is clinically depressed. Even with the brief screen time Hronicek is given she makes Carol just as absorbing as the forerunners of the account. It proves the high-caliber of both the writing and the acting talent at hand.
Though Joe is quiet and introverted, and Z is more than happy to make her presence known to the entire group upon introduction, they inexplicably find a common bond with one another. The rest of the saga focuses sharply on this relationship. The friendship between Joe and Z demonstrates their unspoken dependence upon one another. Because of this the interest initially garnered when we first see each of these characters becomes unwavering. It also increases in its stalwart nature. Such is especially true with each new breathtaking scene.
Battle and Conway’s bold screenplay takes full advantage of the differences in personality between Joe and Z. This is largely evident up until the seventeen minute mark in the composition. It is utilized as a chance to provide phenomenal discussions between the two. These often relate these differences in either a direct or ancillary fashion. This works as entertaining character development. Yet, these instances are so well-written and immersive that we find ourselves even more captivated by these opposite personalities. What is just as mesmerizing is their semi-unlikely attachment and the strange fate which has pulled them together. This prior focus only makes the last six minutes, complete with elegiac and instantly memorable lines such as Z’s: “I am an ugly thing in a beautiful world”, all the more of an emotional knockout. It all comes together to create a certainly well-rounded and touching dramatic portrait as the endeavor becomes more sentimental and heart-wrenching in this conclusive stretch.
This attribute is punctuated by a final bit of dialogue, a reference between a shared interest among Joe and Z, which, in its context, calls back to mind all of the mournful, hilarious and poignant instances which came beforehand. It makes the endeavor all the more masterful as it finds the perfect climax for such a touching, intimate and relatable effort. This is done simply in its last touch of underplayed, but smirk-inducing, dialogue. Yet, the imprint it leaves lingers, much like the sum of the material itself, long afterwards.
From a technical standpoint this often unexpectedly exuberant affair is just as impressive. Battle’s editing is seamless. It is also spectacularly orchestrated. Robert Beal III and Sean Meehan’s sound is crisp, alive and continuously striking. Hair stylist and makeup artist Nicole Celso evokes a great contribution to the overall quality of the piece in her respective arenas. This makes this short picture all the more of deft and alive.
“Here Lies Joe” is an example of how much can be done, stated, examined, as well as the lasting impact conducted, in a brief span. Battle has an incredible aptitude in his respective fields. The same is true for the rest of his moviemaking crew. The proof of such a statement is illuminated in every second of this wonderful and often unexpectedly life- affirming tour de force. This is an intelligent, meditative affair. It is one with just the right balance of heart and laughter. Furthermore, every on-screen personage herein is highly likable. Every individual we encounter throughout seems deserving of being the principal of their own cinematic endeavor. This is an exhibition of moving art that audiences can grow with as the years pass and age and accruing wisdom inevitably takes further hold. This is a visual treasure trove. One destined to bring about new pearls of insight and continue to enthrall and move moviegoers with each viewing. Because of this, Battle’s latest demands to be seen.
You can check out the website for the short here.
You can check out Sweven Films’ Facebook page here.
You can check out Timothy J. Cox’s web site here.
You can check out the IMDB page for “Here Lies Joe” here.