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Monday, November 25, 2013

"Dinner" Low on Story But a Feast For the Eyes

"DINNER"
Length - 7:08
Company: Lightning Bolt Films
Website: Official

Jeff (Dennis Marsico) is a horny middle aged businessman looking for a hot young woman to bang before he returns home to his wife and kids.  After being ignored by more sensible girls, one in particular catches his eye: beautiful blonde Christina (Meredith Branham).  After tucking his wedding ring into his pocket, he approaches her and asks her to a sensible dinner, paid for by his work credit card.

Clearly, this guy's a catch.  But here's the thing: five people have already washed up here at beautiful Coco Beach in central Florida. 

What chance does Christina have to survive to tell the tale?

Let's get it on, shall we?

BEAUTY AND THE BEACH

Titled simply "Dinner", writer and director John Buchanan's latest short film is shot beautifully.  He's actually filming this on location in Florida, and the results are nothing short of staggering: we've got waves, sand, inland buildings -- let's just say that the apparent production values are boosted WAY UP thanks to Mother Nature's cameo appearance in this film.

We also get plenty of ordinary people doing ordinary things -- nothing suspicious here.

That is, until we see Jeff.  This guy is the definition of a high octane, slimey suit and tie in a button up t-shirt.  Marsico's performance is effective in the extreme, and the look on his face when he gets rejected by women is priceless -- you could see this guy losing it and murdering people, kind of in an Udo Kier way.

And speaking of acting, that's what shines the brightest here.  Branham does well, not only standing around looking good, but also delivering lines in an assured manner.  The only exception is the last shot of her, which feels forced, but mostly that's because we linger too long on her face.  It felt too much like a shot we'd see in an Axe commercial. 

Visually, the film is appealing in a way that many shorts just aren't.  Buchanan was lucky enough to have a great location to take advantage of, but he also clearly knows his way around the camera and had a good team to back up his vision.

LOW STAKES

While the situation is without a doubt terrifying -- the idea of coming face to face with a serial killer -- the delivery ultimately is unsatisfying.  The film moves at a very slow pace, consisting mostly of beautiful shots and some back and forth dialogue between the killer and the prey, and the film ends before we get to see the action.  Or any action whatsoever, for that matter.

"Dinner" is inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock school of suspense, and to drive that point home, there's an old timey soundtrack in the vein of Bernard Hermann.  While I usually appreciate such nods, here it just felt odd.  On top of that, we never really got to feel much suspense. 

I didn't like Jeff, and I didn't know enough about Christina to feel one way or another about her.  Though their dialogue sounds authentic enough, their characters are too one note to make me care much about either of their fates. 

Considering the long introduction, with Jeff watching girls and looking pervy, and then the extended end credits, there should have been more meat in between to get us to care about the characters first and foremost and provide action and some kind of catharsis for the viewer.

CONCLUSION

"Dinner" is a great example of beautiful visuals, nice directing and good acting -- but no movement.  It was still enjoyable, but it could have been so much more.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The form of the piece could most easily be compared to that of a joke: point A meets point B, and then comes the punchline.  We needed more from the scant few minutes of running time to feel suspense.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  The opening shots of the beach carry a certain innocence thanks to the lingering camera work, and Jeff's conversation with Christina is filmed well.  It's all effective, but the shots were framed in a basic manner, not particularly composed.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The team tried the best they could with the material, and the only shot that feels overlong is the final, lingering glance at Christina, but even so the pacing of this short is off. 
Sound / Music: 3 / 5. The sound is recorded professionally, but it's the music that brings the film down.  The old school sound is going to be polarizing.  To me, it took me right out of the picture. 
Acting: 3 / 5.  I never once winced at the delivery of a line.  Everybody put on a credible show -- but I will add that nothing challenging happened over the course of the film, so we can't see just how good the actors were.  For what was required of them, they did it.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.  It was a professional show from start to finish, but the lack of a rewarding story left me cold. 

Watch "Dinner" here, check out the film's official website here, and don't forget to stop by writer/director John Buchanan's Facebook page 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!