SCREAMS CUT SHORT Presents:
Written and Directed by Robert Mearns
Review by Gregory G. Kurczynski
It is often said that every story may not have been written, but every story has already been told. This is especially true of horror, with so many of the basic themes and archetypes being revisited by writers and filmmakers almost daily. The responsibility then becomes not to create something necessarily original, but to shift perspective and examine the themes to tell the same story in a way that gives it an individual voice.
It is with these thoughts in mind we take a look at PRANK, a seven minute tale of bad judgment and its resulting consequences, which either works or fails depending on the context in which it is viewed. But I’ll expand on that later.
The movie opens on a scene reminiscent of any installment of the SAW or HOSTEL franchises. In an isolated section of some industrial facility, Jimmy (Ben Elliott) lies stripped, bound and gagged on the grimy metal floor. He screams and struggles as a winch begins to pull him upward by his feet, suspending him upside down, as we are treated to scenes of a barely glimpsed figure in an adjoining room preparing to do very bad things to Jimmy. We’re not sure what, but it’s clear that they involve an industrial paint sprayer.
From this, we cut to a scene of Beth (Kara Miller) waking with a start as if from a nightmare, but it’s only the phone ringing. It’s a friend of Beth’s calling to tell her that she had a visit from the police. Apparently Jimmy has disappeared, and the cops were asking about Brandon.
What happened to Brandon? Cut to a flashback of a deserted, moonlit beach where Jimmy is burying an unconscious Brandon (Mike Armstrong Jr.) up to his neck in the sand ala Ted Danson in CREEPSHOW (1982). Beth, who is clearly Jimmy’s girlfriend, protests, but Jimmy will not be deterred. It’s all harmless fun, a prank at Brandon’s expense that will result in a simply hilarious YouTube video. Well, it’s all fun until Jimmy and Beth fall asleep on the beach after making out and the tide starts to roll in…
So, what we have here are all the elements of a classic “revenge and consequences for bullying and stupid, drunken behavior” tale established in such films as TERROR TRAIN (1980), I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997) and VALENTINE (2001), with a bit of torture porn influence thrown in to spice it up. This is not a criticism. As stated earlier, every story has been told before, but does writer and director Robert Mearns do anything to make his take on the material stand out? Again, it depends on the context in which you view it.
PRANK is a short film that was made based on a feature script that Mearns’ currently has in development. If viewed as an extended trailer to generate interest in the larger project, it works very well. The cinematography by DP Paolo Cascio, especially in the kill room scenes, is extremely accomplished and striking, the editing and sound design are very effective in creating a sense of tension, and the viewer gets just enough of the story to whet the appetite and leave them wanting more. Based on this, I can understand why the movie received a nomination for Best Short Under Ten Minutes at Shriekfest 2012. As the credits rolled, I found myself wanting to see where Mearns is going with this.
And this wanting is precisely why PRANK does not hold up as a stand-alone short. We are given the foundation of a story, but no story arc. We see that Jimmy is a bullying douchebag who does stupid things and Beth is his girlfriend with a heart of gold who knows what they are doing is wrong but is too passive and enamoured of her boyfriend to do anything, but we get no character development. And at the climax, we don’t even get a payoff. The movie does not end so much as just stops.
So the final judgment on PRANK is that Mearns and company show a lot of potential. I look forward to seeing the feature in order to see how he brings his own, fresh voice to an old story.
You can check out the trailer here.
© Copyright 2012 by Gregory G. Kurczynski