Live-Action Shorts: Thrillers (SBIFF, 2017)

Reviewed by T. Luke Madenwald. Viewed during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2017.

Cul-De-Sac(2016), directed by Damon Russel, made its US premeir at the SBIFF 2017. This short thriller follows the story of what seems like an ordinary young family but something begins to go wrong when the dad finds a listening device in their sons Teddy Bear.

This short had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. The pacing and editing really makes you feel like its not safe and there could be someone watching you at any moment. Starting out, the films pacing is very slow letting the tension build but by the end of the short, the rhythm had become a pounding beat similar to your heart after sprints.  In the beginning part of the short, the actors do such a great job conveying controlled panic as they use sign language to communicate that something is wrong while they talk in normal voices. Then throughout the film, their composer slowly dwindles and shatters when they realize what is happening. You can see the gears spinning in their eyes as they try and figure a way out and survive.

There is a scene in the basement of a party where the wife is having a cigarette and waits for her husband to come meet her. She is framed in a doorway with glass behind her. The husband come downstairs and turns the light on directly above them creating harsh shadows resembling film noir. They begin to argue in many different languages and before they can finish what they are saying, a bright light comes on from behind the glass. She quickly turns off the light which frames them both is front of the glass causing their shapes to become dark silhouettes. This scene really stood out to me as it resembled how old James Bond films used to be but with a modern take on it. What I mean is that their characters showed strength through their uncertainty. They both had a natural vulnerability even though they were such strong, in control, people. Unlike the James Bond who always has a smile on his face and seems to be relaxed in every situation. This creative choice the actors and director made for Cul-De-Sac gave it a classic spy feel with a modern realism.

Cul-De-Sac is a smart spy thriller with dark undertones, driven by talented actors and a wonderful director.


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