Reviewed by Erik W. Van Der Wolf
Starring Daniel Reininghaus, Danielle Barker, Evan Eisenstadt, Kelly Marie Murtha, Robert Nolan
Written and directed by Daniel Reininghaus
For a film to be truly successful, the overall concept needs to be original or, at the very least, a unique take on a familiar tale. Consciously or not, Night of the Living Dead, Aliens and Dog Soldiers are all essentially different takes on the successful 1964 film Zulu.
A distinctive premise can also make up for lack of budget. The original Saw was produced for a mere $1.2 million (paltry by most contemporary feature film standards), and though well made, its unique premise was the driving force behind its $55 million box office success. That premise has also been strong enough to yield five sequels for a cumulative box office total, thus far, of $368 million. While one can argue about the quality of those follow-ups, there is no arguing that Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s unique construct for the original was pure cinematic gold.
A strong premise is even more important for the short film, where constraints of time demand the overall design be clear and concise in order to achieve maximum impact for the limited duration you have the audience’s attention.
Eyes Beyond, written by, directed by and starring Daniel Reininghaus, is a nice example of a short film with a solid concept that ultimately works even if the execution is a bit pedestrian.
The pic opens with a mother, father and their teen-aged daughter delivering a housewarming gift to two brothers who have just moved into their close-knit community. Delighted by the gesture, the brothers invite the family to dinner so they can get to know one another better. Ignoring How to Avoid Becoming a Horror Film Victim Rule #2 – which is never eat or drink anything given to you by people you’ve just met – it’s not long before our suburban family members go night-night, then awaken to find themselves bound to their respective chairs and subjected to all forms of torture and perversion. Blood is shed, sexual organs are used and abused and just when it appears this film is simply an exercise in (or an excuse for) yet more senseless torture-horror, the plot takes a nice twist and poses the possibility that this seemingly average clean-cut family just might deserve what’s happening to them. Have they done something to earn the brutal violence they’ve been subjected to? Or are their captors simply psychotic?
Reininghaus does a fine job of structuring the story in a manner that holds your attention and keeps you guessing until all is eventually revealed. And while those revelations aren’t entirely original, Reininghaus’ story execution makes them pay off well within the context of the story.
The only real problems with the film are the visuals. While you never want to draw attention to your camera work or editing, the optics should at least be engaging, and here the cinematography simply comes off as workman-like. While each shot is framed correctly and properly lit, they’re just not very dynamic. You never get a sense anyone was thinking beyond the television screen or a computer monitor. It just seems … small. While it doesn’t ruin the film, you do get a sense it could have been more visually robust.
Performances are strong across the board, which is refreshing to see in a short film, and while there is wet-work, it’s a little too understated, and again, you get the sense that, visually, Reininghaus left some game in the locker room.
Overall, though, the film is a success. It’s competently made, the ideas presented are done so clearly and concisely and no time is wasted on the self-indulgent flourishes that are all too common in short films. A solid effort worth checking out.
3 out of 5
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