Day of John (Short, 2005)
Starring Jesse Phillips, Mairy Merkley, JR Digs
Directed by Chris Nash
Goddamn film school students. No matter where I am, the second I hear that someone’s enrolled in film school and wants us to see their movie, the first thing I always think of is a clown flipping pancakes (if you've seen “Family Guy”, you're with me). More often than not film school films are usually pretentious, unfunny, badly acted, badly scripted or a painful blend of all of the above.
I hate to sound embittered, but I don’t like most indie films. I think it’s too much exposure to over-hyped, underdone films in my years running a website. But then, out of the clear blue (actually the Rue Morgue table at the recent Festival of Fear, where the director handed me a copy of it) comes a film like Day of John.
The previous night I had met director Chris Nash at one of the Rue Morgue after parties, and he was telling us what the film is about. It’s 16 minutes long, and it must’ve taken him at least 10 minutes just to tell us, roughly, all the different plot elements of Day of John. It’s one of those movies that you really can’t describe to others; you just have to say, "watch it". You could tell them it’s about redemption and hope and taking responsibility for your actions. You could say it’s about murder, torture, and demons conjured from the pits of Hell. You could even say it’s a public service as to why sometimes mounting a Samurai sword above your entryway is actually a good idea. Even if you told them one or all of those things, however, you’d really only be giving a small chunk of the film away.
Comedy, drama, and horror are three genres that have come together with varied success in the past. Director Nash must have been a student of these successful blendings for a long time before working out Day of John because he manages to pull them all off with varying levels of success. There is a smile and wink prevalent in the attitude behind the film, so the comedy is usually at the forefront, but during the 16-minute run time it shifts all over the place with a grace that’s sometimes not even seen in more accomplished directors. The staggered narrative and time jumping only serves to give the film that much more depth, and it’s really unlike anything I’ve seen before from an indie director.
Day of John had a hard road to travel. It was Nash’s third year of film school, and he knew he wanted to do something different. He had budgeted the script out at roughly $5,000 but couldn’t even come close to scraping that much up, despite favors being called in and a mini-fundraiser being set up. So he entered a competition with one of his previous films, won a first prize trophy and $5,000, and Day of John was on its way to becoming a reality.
Throughout the making of the movie, however, he and his teacher argued constantly about what makes a good movie, and when he finally turned the final project in, she ended up giving him a D+. In other words he passed, but just barely. If you ever see this movie and then show it to others like I have, make sure you preface the showing with that bit of info. A goddamn D+. That goes to show just how out of touch some instructors are from that which they are instructing because a few months later Day of John was accepted into the Toronto International Film Festival, where it’s been getting some great buzz from the attendees.
Sorry, I know that last part is kind of out of the realm of "review," but for me it was important to know where the film had come from to understand just how difficult it was to be made. Nash managed to get competent actors, good cinematography, interesting special effects, and even a passable score out of $5,000 and a determination to tell the story of John. I can only imagine what he’d do with a real budget.
4 out of 5
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