Café at the Crossroads (Short, 2007)
Written and directed by Patrick Rea
We all love feature length films, but every once in a while we get a craving for a little special taste of something that's quick and easy and off the beaten path. For me, nothing satisfies that urge like a short. One of the most prolific short filmmakers out there today is Patrick Rea. Recently he sent me a slew of samples of his work, and coming out on top of the heap was Café at the Crossroads.
Ironically, my initial exposure to Rea was his first feature film, The Empty Acre, which I felt was entirely too long and drawn out but also showed a great deal of promise, so the prospect of watching Café, his latest endeavor, was quite appealing. Café clocks in at exactly 11 minutes, the perfect length to set up a situation, introduce some characters, and let events play out to a satisfactory conclusion. Like Acre, Café is a bit more in the sci-fi vein than pure horror, but it has enough genre elements to keep fans intrigued, and the identity of one of the characters certainly belongs more to us horror geeks than to those sci-fi nerds.
The tale begins with a lone man carrying a briefcase walking down a deserted road in a world washed in red. The term "apocalyptic" definitely comes to mind, but the viewer has no idea of the circumstances that caused such an anomaly. Our traveler comes upon a diner where four people have gathered: an elderly couple playing chess, a rather non-descript man reading a newspaper, and the establishment's last remaining waitress. He orders coffee and toast and proceeds to eavesdrop on their conversation. Apparently things have gone terribly wrong everywhere. People are burned and tearing themselves apart. Mention is made of them eating themselves. One local woman was forced to kill her crazed son and then turned the gun on herself. These four survivors have been holed up in the café for three days already. What the heck is going on? Is it some sort of plague? Extreme solar flares? Maybe a zombie infestation? To say much more would be to spoil it, and yes, some of you will no doubt at least partially guess what's transpired, but the fun is in the details and how things are revealed to both the characters and the audience. At first the acting seems to be somewhat hit or miss, especially by the locals, but once you realize who everyone is, their slightly odd, stilted speech patterns make sense.
Rea definitely has an eye for how a film should be shot, and his dialogue flows pretty well. I particularly enjoyed the repartee between the traveler (Strong) and the newspaper reading man (Ridgway) during the climax. The overall sound design is suitably menacing and spooky, the selection of the record that plays in the diner's background is superb, and the red colored effects outside the café are mostly very well done. I honestly can't find much to complain about in Café at the Crossroads. It's an excellent example of what can be accomplished by a determined filmmaker on a limited budget with a vivid imagination. In short, it's a nearly perfect short.
4 out of 5
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