South Dakota Film Festival: Dust of War and 7 short films
Looking Past You
An elderly woman, whose husband has just passed, is getting sick and tired of people ignoring her and her feelings. I kept thinking about that scene at the end of Network where the main character spouts, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” She grabs his old service pistol and decides she’s going to get back the money that is owed to her after a financial advisor heartlessly tells her she’s broke. Well-acted and perfectly paced with a message that doesn’t banging on the heads of the audience, Looking Past You is good drama.
One day the head of a household is on the family computer when he finds a video that leaves him speechless. He confronts his entire family at once and demands an explanation. It turns out that every one of the family members has made an embarrassing video, but no one know which he is referring to. Family Meeting is simple and more importantly, it made me laugh and as more and more truths start to reveal themselves, it only becomes funnier.
This short horror/comedy is a spoof of handheld POV horror films that had plenty of good laughs and even some creepy moments. An investigative paranormal TV crew is hired by a mattress company to probe their store for any clues of a haunting. What they find instead are plenty of laughs as they have seemingly been set up to show how great the prices are at the store. This is one of the shorts that I saw that I wish was about 20 minutes longer. The mood was perfectly set and the tension (when not relieved by the laughs) was stout.
Mirror was far and away my favorite film of the first day. This short narrative never explains what exactly is going on and I was pretty fine with that. The film begins with a movie star flying home from Hollywood to visit family he hasn’t seen for a while. When he arrives home though, things begin to crack immediately. Mirror plays with perception the entire length of its run time. You never know what reality is. Are there really aliens abducting people? Is he just imagining things? There was a great shot of a man walking into a room in complete darkness as lights flickered on and off creating a strobe effect that is still making me blink. Loved the sound design and loved the score. This was easily the most ambitious film that I saw at the festival.
Bring Me a Dream
This nice little film was great amalgamation of a children’s best time story mixed to great effect with the horror genre. A young girl is told by her father to go to bed, but she’d rather stay up coloring in her book. Her father warns her that if she doesn’t go to bed, the Sandman could visit her and that it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. So of course she doesn’t heed his warning and sure enough things get creepy. Things in her room begin to come alive and move with free will, while the Sandman himself shows up to put the young girl to sleep. For how short this was, I was surprised at how much it affected me. It gets really scary really fast. The sound design was very good albeit a little too loud and the costume design for the Sandman himself was well done.
This was a fun little horror short that never really makes any sense, but is nonetheless funny and at times even creepy. A young girl (who is a misfit at school) is sent to live with her older brother to clean up her act. The brother doesn’t ask much of her when it comes to chores, but he does want her to take out the trash and recycling to the non-attached garage behind the house. When she does, there seems to be some kind of entity that talks to her. There are shops tools hanging on the wall that only get bloodier and bloodier the more times she enters. While watching The Garage I couldn’t help but think of Sam Raimi and more specifically Drag Me to Hell. Funnily enough, the director of the short cited these two exact references during the Q&A after the film. While The Garage disappointingly ends out of nowhere, everything else that precedes it is worth the time.
A Hard Day
I will keep this review brief as I do not want to ruin any of what this utterly hilarious short shows. A man is looking to spice up his relationship with his girlfriend so he goes off to buy special pills that will enhance their “afternoon delight” He buys two different pills and is warned not to take them at the same time. Of course he doesn’t listen and the results make for easily the funniest film of the festival. A Hard Day doesn’t even try to apologize for being too raunchy, instead throwing in one fantastic gag after another. The lead actor was perfectly cast as a dimwit who seemed to do one wrong thing after another.
Dust of War
Dust of War was one of the headline films of the festival and the screening played to a packed house that ate it up. Dust of War is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film that when really boiled down to it is essentially a 90 minute chase film. That isn’t a complaint either. I’m a big fan of simple action films that don’t try to be anything more than what they are. The film adds in some sci-fi that felt out of place for me, but that is a small quibble. Set on a prairie in a world that has been ravaged by a war with an alien race with nothing left and only a few small groups of people are left to fight. A young girl is seen as the key to survival for the human race and two opposing forces want to use her in their own ways. A young quiet warrior, who lets his sword do his talking, teams up with the old wise cracking has been fighter, who still has some fight left in him, to rescue the young girl from the clutches of an evil general and his gang of marauders.
Dust of War is not trying to break new ground here. It is however, a competent low budget action film. The villain General Chizum, played by Bates Wilder, is of course spewing fantastic lines of poison aimed at his nemeses. His aim (and dialogue) is consistently undermined by Tom’s (Gary Graham) unwillingness to play along. The action scenes are fine and the chase scenes are well executed. And finally a movie that brings back under cranking to a car chase scene.
As I mentioned earlier, my only complaint was that Dust of War added some sci-fi elements in it did not seem to add much to the film. I wish it would have either gone for it all or kept it out altogether. The final reveal at the end leaves the audience begging for more, but considering what came before, it felt out of place. But that is more of a small complaint. As a whole I really dug the film. Screenwriter/Director Andrew Kightlinger made a film that, despite a low budget, shows ambition and enough quality for me to recommend it.