Black Guitar (Short, 2011)
Written and directed by Brandon Scullion
Produced by Brandon Scullion, Stephanie Rojas
Being a designated independent/short film reviewer for Dread Central is sort of like being a contestant on "Press Your Luck". Every time you insert a screener into your DVD player, you find yourself internally chanting, “Please don’t suck… please don’t suck…” the film reviewer version of “No whammy! No whammy!”
And Black Guitar, written and directed by Brandon Scullion, is definitely not a whammy.
Shot on 16mm, Black Guitar is a tight, well conceived, vignette which plays a lot like a lost episode of "Tales from the Darkside". The 1984 series produced by George A. Romero was shot on an incredibly minimal budget using 16mm film stock, and Black Guitar's use of the same, along with readily available sets, captures a somewhat comforting similar look and feel. Something which should be much appreciated by those who grew up watching syndicated horror made on the cheap in the 1980s.
The story of Black Guitar focuses on teen-aged social misfit Aimee (Kaitlyn Jenkins), daughter to an alcoholic mother and a potentially abusive stepfather. She’s an outcast at school and happens to be in love with one of the more popular boys, Franklin (David Lautman), who has no idea she even exists. Not to mention he has a girlfriend. He plays guitar so, to get his attention, Aimee purchases a cheap, black guitar from a dubious-looking fellow at a second-hand store and joins a music class Franklin is in.
Throughout the film she struggles to find a way to approach Franklin and entertains fantasies about what it would be like to simply come out and announce her feelings. But those heart-lifting visions are short-lived as the crushing realities of her dismal life constantly remind her of exactly who she is and that she has no hope of ever winning Franklin‘s affections. Add in a home life where her mother enjoys a beer breakfast on a regular basis and her stepfather thinks she should start paying rent even though she‘s not even out of high school, and it seems Aimee can’t catch a break in this world.
Until, that is, she discovers her black guitar possesses certain powers. Powers which can give her exactly what she wants with a few plucks of a pick. But there are repercussions for wielding such awesome power, and the more she plucks, the deeper into darkness she descends.
From start to finish Black Guitar pretty much gets it right. While Scullion’s script mines familiar territory (woe is the disaffected teen), he finds a way to make the material his own and keeps the story moving; thus, he keeps us engaged.
As a director, he avoids “Look at me - I’m Directing!” moments ever so present in amateur films and simply lets the story play. The fine work of cinematographer Matthew Espenshade helps in this endeavor, and together the duo get the most out of what they had to work with and present a nice collaborative effort.
Casting director Edward Payson also gets a shout out here. While the performances are a mixed bag, you have a very limited amount of time to make your fictional world believable in a short film, and everyone here at least looks their part, which is ninety percent of the battle.
What‘s nice about Black Guitar is the story first attitude it conveys. Yes, the 16mm is visually pleasing and refreshing to see, but none of that matters if your story isn’t worth telling. Clearly, Scullion set out write a good story first, and make a good film second.
Which is how it should be.
4 out of 5
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