It is often be the case that great things can come in small packages. In the realm of cinema, this translates to under 10 minutes. There is a distinctive artistry in short filmmaking. One could make the illusory coloration that the job of a short film director or writer is somehow easier, given the brevity of their resulting creation. The reality, however, is that the stunted time-frame requires the filmmaker to become adept at the economy of storytelling, and therefore to actually work harder to develop a narrative in a more concise framework.
It’s not a frequent occurrence, nor is it exceedingly rare that a short film will be picked up for adaptation into a feature film. This week, the wonderful Spanish horror short Mama sees its full-length iteration hit theaters. The Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama centers on two young girls found living alone in squalor, in the middle of the woods. When their new adoptive parents bring them home, it becomes clear that something terrifying has come along with them. Andres Muschietti, who also wrote and directed the short, helms the feature version. This got us thinking about some other short films we’ve seen over the last couple of years that would also be ideal for full-length big screen treatment.
The Legend of Beaver Dam
John Landis would be proud of this horror comedy short from writer/director Jerome Sable. It’s the story of an awkward young outcast, out on a camping trip with his scout troupe. As the night’s activities turn to ghost stories, which in turn accidentally awakens an evil monster, unlikely hero Danny is called upon to save the day. What is so outstanding about The Legend of Beaver Dam, and what we’re aching to see more of, is the spectacular musical element, and how this feeds an imaginative narrative structure. It would be great to see Sable team with Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich (the twisted minds behind Repo! The Genetic Opera) to turn Beaver Dam into a large-scale theatrical horror musical.
A carjacker witnesses a shooting, and inadvertently becomes the only one who can help a dying man. His conscience will not be the only thing tested. Marko Slavnic’s gritty crime drama is fairly simple in its construction. But within these few moments, we are presented with a probing, brooding character study that takes a phenomenal turn in its final act. It would be fascinating to see this twist altered to serve a running, tension-fostering conflict. Slavnic clearly has the directing and screenwriting chops necessary to hook an audience, and it would be great to see him expand this tale into a dark crime thriller somewhere in the neighborhood of Headhunters.
This is a bit of a cheat, we are not afraid to admit that. Directed by Phil Joanou (State of Grace, The Gridiron Gang), Dirty Laundry centers on a familiar skull-tee-clad comic book vigilante who, in this adventure, stumbles upon a nasty assault while he’s just trying to do his laundry. Yes, we’ve already had two Punisher films, and yes one of them already starred Thomas Jane, but Dirty Laundry is a sterling example of how the right director, and the right tone, can make all the difference. Dirty Laundry is edgier than 2004’s Punisher, and yet more grounded (if only a hair less violent) than 2008’s Punisher: War Zone. Hopefully, the overwhelming response to this fan film will earn Jane another shot at the role of Frank Castle. Gotta love that Ron Perlman cameo, too.
No Way Out
Even abstract shorts films can provide a compelling appetizer for a potential feature; more than any other type of short, they leave us wanting more. If there is one short that left us ravenous, it was 2011’s No Way Out. Directed by Kristoffer Aaron Morgan, and co-written by Eric Vespe, No Way Out is a violent, cruel descent into madness wherein a man, House of the Devil’s A.J. Bowen, is pushed to his breaking point by hideous monsters in the dark. The production design, the cinematography, and the ghoulishly delightful practical effects make for a superb and haunting Lovecraftian nightmare that begs to be expanded.
Portal: No Escape
It would be impossible to construct this list without mentioning what is conceivably the best fan film ever made. Dan Trachtenberg’s ode to Valve’s sci-fi video game was artful and immaculately shot, tantalizingly hinting at the potential for a feature-length Portal movie. No Escape was so exceptional that it actually just netted Trachtenberg a gig directing New Line’s movie version of the graphic novel Y: The Last Man. Our guess is that if Trachtenberg were to also then direct the cinematic Portal adaptation, something for which we are all crossing our fingers and toes simultaneously, Guillermo del Toro would produce. That may seem like a stretch... unless you happened to notice the voice of GlaDoS in the Pacific Rim trailers.
[Photo Credit: George Kraychyk/Universal Pictures]