"Tick Tock" a Stylish Experimental Short Film

Length: 4:50
Company: N/A
Website: Ien Chi's Official Site


As the winner of Best Picture and Best Director awards at Campus MovieFest 2011, and one of the few short films to actually be distributed and televised nationally, "Tick Tock" has a lot to live up to. 

Let's not beat around the bush, friends.  Is "Tick Tock" worth the praise?

Check it out below!


Emit (Morgan Ayres) has problems.  He's having trouble in class, he just broke up with his girlfriend -- oh, and there's one other thing.  He's just realized that the aspirin he thought he was taking at a friend's house was actually morphine, and that the fatal overdose will hit him in approximately five minutes.

Emerging indie writer/director Ien Chi sets up his story within seconds, and he challenges the audience to step into Emit's shoes for a minute:

You've got five minutes to live.

What do you do?

Tick tock.


The first shot in "Tick Tock", after the black and white credits, is a clock ticking backward.  It's a nice setup, and it is the first in a series of unsettling shots that will get you a little off kilter.

The entire film is a single take, a challenging proposition for any filmmaker, but particularly when you consider that it is then delivered to the audience in reverse.  You literally see the end credits first, then the final scenes, and then on and on, backward, until you finally discover what is going on.

The reverse shot might seem like a gimmick, something that a lazy filmmaker did to hide the fact that his story is pedestrian, but nothing could be more from the truth.  It's clear by the fluidity of camera movement that Chi is deliberately using this technique as a stylistic device.  From the beginning, the camerawork is fluid , and bizarrely, it doesn't feel backward.  It's as though the camera is moving with forward motion, while everything taking place on screen runs backward.

The reverse technique also lends the film a surreal, dream-like atmosphere that increases the longer you watch.  At first, Emit's outbursts seem over the top -- and why is he calling his parents while he's running?

Of course, since we're in reverse, the dialogue is unintelligible, and Chi smartly muffles the voices of his actors -- we hear them as though from down a long hallway, which only helps to position the film as a dream sequence, half nightmare, half inspirational.  This is emphasized by the film's usage of black and white for Emit's depression -- his lingering on the physical, stupid stuff in life -- and vibrant color when he's trying to make things right.


It's surprising to see how much emotion the actors are capable of displaying, even backward.  The running scene in particular gets to me.  I don't know if this was complicated or just a random thing that turned out well, but Emit looks out of control and even panicky at different points during his run, as though his body is out of control and he suddenly realizes that everything in his life is fleeing from him, just as he is running backwards to the source of the problem. 

Buddy (played by a smirky Maurice Winsell) is a little unbelievable -- he delivers his role too "in your face".  Subtlety would have worked.  I get that he's amused, but does he have to borderline cackle behind Emit's back? 

Rena, Emit's girlfriend, is played by Valee Gallant.  She has a very short role, and most of her facial expressions are believable.  Without hearing real dialogue, I can't say for sure, but put it this way: I believed her character for the purposes of "Tick Tock".


Since when does overdosing on morphine give you five minutes to live?  Why would Emit do what he does rather than call 9-1-1, for instance?   Why does Buddy cause trouble?

There are no answers for any of these questions, mainly more than likely because if anything happened differently, it would destroy the whole point of the story.  There's a theme at work here, and it's not particularly subtle.  The Steve Jobs quote tacked on at the end (the beginning?) drives the point home, in case you were sleepwalking through the rest of the picture.


"Tick Tock" is a trick film.  It's intention is to make you think about your life, and what's important, and it does it incredibly well, considering the relatively poor picture quality and audio.  At first, I was confused, and followed the story a little in disbelief, but there was some element about it, the direction, maybe, that made me sense there was something more about this picture, something I had to see.

I'm glad I stuck around, because "Tick Tock" is one of the better experimental short films I've seen.

Overall Scores:

Writing: 3 / 5.  The dialogue, delivered in subtitles, is a bit on the nose, and there's not a whole lot going on, plot wise.  The film's a one trick pony, but the one trick it delivers, it does very well.  It's held back somewhat by a very obvious theme that culminates in an equally on the nose quote from Steve Jobs.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  The direction seemed to play forward while the action on screen played backward, if that makes any sense -- the director's style remains intact, and it's a nice anchor in the midst of the strangeness of living in reverse.  Filming it all in one take gave the movie an immediacy it desperately needed. 
Editing: 2 / 5.  There wasn't much editing needed, aside from some Windows Movie Maker magic.  By and large, the film is one take, so we pretty much just follow Emit from location to location. 
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  "Anthem" by Emancipator was a nice, introspective tune that played in the background.  The sound itself was muddled and low in the mix -- once again, intentional, but it was boring to the ears.  Thankfully, the visuals onscreen were strong and imaginative enough to hold my interest.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  The acting in the film was limited due to the nature of filming in reverse, but a surprising amount of emotion worked from actor to actor.  Buddy (Maurice Winsell) was a little over the top and Rena (Valee Gallant) does what she has to.

Final Grade: 2.7 / 5.  

To watch the full length film and get in touch with Ien Chi, check out his official website.  If you'd like to hear more music from Emancipator (and who wouldn't?) then check them out here!

Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!