48 Hour Film Fest Award Winner "Ostinato" Plays With Your Psyche

Length - 6:54
Company: The Allen Smithee Crew
Website: Ryan Robins' Official Site

Olivia Nickleby (Sarah Adams) is just a young woman working at an ordinary bank.  Every day's the same -- until the day her branch is awarded a trophy for Best Customer Service of the quarter. 

This is the day when everything changes, and when Olivia's blissful, workaday life is turned into a nightmare. 

That's the basic setup of "Ostinato", a short film that won the "Audience Award" at the San Antonio 48 Hour Film Project of 2013  -- that's right, it was completely conceived, drafted, shot and edited within two days by the Allen Smithee Crew.


Considering that the other films at the festival would have also been 2 day efforts, I kept my expectations in check. 

Well, let's dig in, shall we?


An ostinato is a melodic pattern repeated over and over, in case you didn't know (don't feel bad if you didn't, I didn't either 'til I massaged Google for a second).  It makes perfect sense now after seeing this film.  Quentin Tarantino would be proud of co-writer and director Ryan Robins' slick manipulation of time. 

Olivia experiences the horrific events that unfold at her bank twice, but that second time it manages to be unique and not at all repetitive thanks to this thoughtful take on foreshadowing: has the horror happened yet, or is she receiving forewarnings of something yet to come?  We honestly don't know, and it adds quite a bit to the disturbingly real premise.


The presentation of Olivia's workplace in the beginning, with the soft piano score and floating camerawork, the many smiles between co-workers, and the pleased face of Bill the Bank Manager (Andrew Worley -- he just looks so damn friendly in this movie, I'd work for him too) are just too good to be true.  It's an idyllic workplace -- everybody's civil, everyone likes each other, even the guy arguing with someone on his cell phone in the lobby -- it's all very hazy with its positivity, kind of like how the best of memories do when viewed through the lens of nostalgia.

So when the awfulness starts to unfold, it hits twice as hard as it would normally.  This is an intrusion, a violation of a Perfect Space.  Better yet, there are no funny camera tricks, no whacky angles, NOTHING -- it just happens, which makes it seem all the more inevitable.  Even when the killing comes, it's anticlimactic, it's disgusting, human life is just smeared out as though it didn't matter at all.

This was probably the best directing decision Robins could have made.  I have seen a lot of films, and this one got to me on a deeper level than most.


The first three quarters of the film is rock solid.  I was rooted to my seat, in the moment, being thrilled and disturbed in equal quantities, and I appreciated every single second of it.

But then we cut away to a padded room to a scene where we are supposed to think that maybe Olivia is just crazy and she made it all up, or maybe it's not a hospital at all, maybe she's been taken captive by the bank invaders.

But that wouldn't make much sense -- we were never given a reason why Olivia was special, why some had to die while others were captured.

Or maybe everyone except the banker who was killed was taken prisoner?  But again, it wouldn't make much sense to kill some and keep others.

The whole "insane person scribbling gory drawings in a sketchbook" thing has been done and done again, it's not original enough of an image to make a fitting conclusion to such a visionary and, frankly, psychologically tantalizing picture.

"Why am I here?" Olivia asks her captor when he comes to give her some kind of medication.  He has a scar that marks him as one of the bank invaders. 

Why, indeed?  We don't know.


"Ostinato" is a marvel of short filmmaking -- not only a short film itself, but also created in a jaw droppingly short amount of time, it accomplishes much, and leaves this viewer wanting more explanation, something to make its images coherent.  I couldn't quite make the jump from the first three quarters of the film to its finale, but even so, it's amazingly effective, visually appealing and a professionally shot film from front to back.

You are doing yourself a disservice by not watching "Ostinato".  Click here and go watch it right now!


Writing: 3.5 / 5. "Ostinato" was written by director Ryan Robins, Evan Burns and Matt Cooper, and these guys did an admirable job of turning what could have been a pedestrian story into something vital and unique.  The specifications for the 48 Hour Film Project that the short film was made for simply wanted Olivia Nickleby to be the character, to use a trophy as a prop, and "Why am I here?" as a line of dialogue.  I'd say these guys rocked the house.
Directing: 5 / 5. Everybody puts on a professional show, but of special note is Ryan Robins' directing.  The decision to handle the bank invasion scene in this style was a very mature choice, and it pretty much made the film for me.  The beginning shots of the bank, with the fluid, moving camerawork, with characters walking into frame and out -- some directors storyboard for months and their films don't come off half as assured as Robins does in "Ostinato".
Editing: 4 / 5. The transition from bank to padded cell is jarring, but apart from that the film plays great.  The film feels like it's just as long as it ought to be -- not too long, not too short.
Sound/Music:  3 / 5.  The soundtrack was taken care of by Omega9 and Roger Subirana Mata. Nothing particularly stood out, though I enjoyed the creepy music over the credits.  
Acting: 3.5 / 5.  Some of the acting was a little flat -- mainly the scarred man when he speaks to Olivia in the padded room.  Most of the bankers felt authentic though, and Sarah Adams and Andrew Worley looked and acted their parts very well.

Final Grade: 3.8 / 5.  "Ostinato" delivers a thoughtful, beautifully shot horror film in 48 hours -- considering how fast it was delivered, it's extremely good.  While the conclusion didn't quite sit right with me, Olivia's struggle with premonitions (or are they memories of something already happened, something she is powerless to stop) resonated with me, and this film has stuck with me ever since I watched it.

You can't ask for more than that.

Watch "Ostinato" here, visit Ryan Robins' official site here and stop by his official Facebook page, too!

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!