Reviewed by Erik W. Van Der Wolf
Starring Stevan Vujic, J. Preston Taub, Laura Wettingfeld, Charlie S. Jensen, Joanna Krupa, Matthew Mages, Heather Schlitt
Written and directed by Nicholas J. Michalak
Short films are tricky things to pull off. Within the confines of time and budget, a filmmaker must present a three-act structure as succinctly as possible without being obvious and find a way to be visually impressive without being obtrusive and distract the audience from the whole.
Unfortunately, “obvious“ and “obtrusive“ are the two words that can best describe Dead of Night.
Written and directed by Nicholas J. Michalak, this short pic tells the story of FBI Profiler Cyrus Vendelin and his pursuit of vicious serial killer Leonard Marshall Eccleston. Cyrus is seriously dialed into Leonard, knows what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling, and is determined to stop him — tonight — before he can kill again.
However, Leonard already has his next victim in his sights and is about to close in for the kill, and it becomes a race against time: Will Cyrus get there in time to stop him? Or will he arrive too late to once again only get to clean-up the mess? And — do we care?
The answer is both yes and no. There’s a good short film here somewhere; Michalak just didn’t find it.
The problem is that Dead of Night simply tries too hard. From the overwritten script wrought with dialogue from Cyrus and Leonard that strives (and fails) to be deep and headsy to the heavy-handed camera work that does nothing but draw attention to itself and disrupt the flow of the story. Michalak (who also handled cinematography duties) attempts a cinema-verite style that simply doesn’t work here. It seems out of place for this kind of story and is done in a manner that actually makes the film hard to watch. In nearly every scene the camera is either moving, zooming in, or at an extreme Dutch angle (sometimes all three at once), seemingly for no reason other than to try and impress. Sadly, the impression it leaves isn’t a good one. Which is a shame because there’s a nice set-up and payoff here that could have been quite effective had Michalak had the confidence in the material to simply let it play and not feel as though he had to “amp” it up with extreme camera language that never seems organic to the story.
On a positive note the seeds of a talented filmmaker are quite obvious here. Michalak clearly understands film language and story structure, and if “confidence” and “restraint” can become the operative words moving forward, I suspect we’ll see something fairly impressive in the future.
1 1/2 out of 5
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