Torn (Short, 2011)

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TornStarring Nick Colla, Dean Kirkright, Wendy Bos, Pia Prendiville, Ben Ridgewell

Written and directed by Chris and Robert Smellin

When making a short film, it’s best to keep your aspirations within reach and choose stories which are situational, rather than those that require knowledge of a lot of back story. Revealing back story in a feature film via honest exposition is hard enough (subtle hints through character actions rather than characters blatantly explaining everything); trying to do so in a short film is damn near impossible, especially when it comes to character motivations.

Torn, a short film from Chris and Robert Smellin, falls into the trap of trying to do too much in too little time and, as a result, accomplishes little of what it sets out to do.

The film opens ambiguously with two brothers, Derrek (Colla) and Ethan (Kirkright), having been involved in some type of accident that resulted in their father being killed. Ethan blames Derrek for “not helping” to prevent the incident, though the events which resulted in dad’s demise are not revealed. As a result of what has transpired, Ethan vows to never speak with Derrek ever again.

Two years later we catch up with Derrek, who has put his life back together and is heading out on a lovers’ weekend with his girlfriend, Stacie (Prendiville), and another couple. Not only is it Derrek’s birthday, he’s also intending to ask Stacie to marry him.

Ethan, on the other hand, has not moved on with his life. He still holds Derrek responsible for their father’s death and is in a downward spiral aided by drugs and alcohol. Refusing to let go of the anger he feels toward Derrek, he decides to crash the birthday weekend; although how he finds out about it is unclear since it’s obvious they never talk.

Ethan does indeed crash the party, and just when it looks as though his only goal is to insinuate himself into the situation and ruin it for his brother, it’s revealed he has a revenge plot in mind that involves making Derrek think his girlfriend has died so he can experience the same sense of loss he feels about their father. The situation eventually spins out of control, and it’s not long before blood is spilled and lives are lost.

If it sounds like there’s a lot going on here, there is, and that’s the problem. This is the fat guy in a little jacket. While Chris and Robert Smellin’s intentions to create a fully fleshed out storyline are appreciated, the story they chose is too much to try and cram into the short form. There simply isn’t enough time to create the detailed characters and back story required for a piece like this; thus, the film never achieves the emotional impact or tension they’re going for. Especially when the events which led to their father’s death are revealed and really don’t amount to much.

On the positive side the film is well shot, well directed, and the acting is above par. While you should definitely set your filmmaking goals high, they should also be attainable; and it’s not clear they were in this case.

2 1/2 out of 5

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