Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: The Short Films of Jeremiah Kipp

It's always encouraging when someone with clout takes note of your work. The Haunted Drive-in is still a very young site, the current incarnation less than a month old. So when a director of two critically acclaimed short films and an upcoming feature emails me asking if I'd like to review his work, I pay attention. The pioneer in question is one Jeremiah Kipp, who graciously provided me links to his short films Crestfallen and Contact.

Crestfallen is a six-minute film about a young woman who decides to take her own life. She first tries to drown herself in her bathtub; when this fails, she takes a large kitchen knife and slashes her left arm from the wrist to the elbow. Lying there bleeding to death, she sees her life flash before her, including the events that led her to this point and the potential future she would miss out on. The short ends ambiguously, as the woman grabs a towel to stop the crimson flow, with the final shot suggesting a happier life from here on out.

The thing that first got to me was the total lack of dialogue. Crestfallen accomplishes emotional connection with the protagonist and a strong message with nothing more than visuals and atmospheric music. And what visuals they are. Kipp knows how to swing the camera, how to disorient the viewer. Even the most basic shot is given an edge due to his direction, resulting in a beautiful piece of work.

The concept of the film is solid. As a friend of someone who survived his own suicide, I remember well his description of seeing all the things he would miss out on if his plan had worked. In the time it took him to do the deed, he says that he saw years of possibilities, possibilities that would have been lost forever if the young men who found him hadn't helped. Crestfallen accurately depicts the deep depression that leads to suicide, as well as the realization that it would rob the individual of everything. 

Beautifully shot, powerfully acted, and capably directed, Crestfallen is not a horror film, but it is terrifying, showing humanity at its lowest. Thankfully, it also shows more positive aspects of our existence. Screened in the right venues, this short could possibly save lives.

The other film is a bizarre drug-trip titled Contact. Of the two, this one is definitely the more frightening and gory, with some noticeable influences. Contact begins with an elderly couple sitting down to dinner. Although only two of them are at the table, a third setting is placed. We then see a young interracial couple going to a strange drug dealer, who advises that they take the substance they've bought together, as if doing it alone is a very bad idea. While under the influence, the woman begins to hallucinate, first imagining that something is crawling all over her body, then experiencing a nightmarish vision where a kiss with her boyfriend results in their faces being melted together, her mouth tearing into a hideous wreck when she pulls away. Near the end of the film, we return to the elderly couple, who hear the doorbell ringing. The young woman is their daughter, and like the prodigal son, she's returned home, her drug-induced brain still affecting her. Contact is just over 10 minutes long, but it will stick with you well past that.

Two directors came to mind as I watched this short. The first was Alfred Hitchcock. In many of his greatest films, Hitch used odd angles and strategic vantage points to force the viewer into being a voyeur, observing things as if they're there, or as if they have a part to play. This occurs often in Contact, and the liberal addition of hand-held camera furthers the feel, making it seem like the audience is following the couple. The other director I thought of was David Lynch. Eraserhead is one of the strangest, most inscrutable, most horrific films ever made, and while Contact is nowhere near as terrifying or complex, it nevertheless succeeds in developing a sense of profound unease. The "melting kiss" in particular could very easily have been a Lynchian invention, while the decision to film in black-and-white helps to avoid a cheesy look. In color, the gore might have seemed unrealistic or even cartoonish. Here though, it's brilliant. Like Crestfallen, Contact seems to suggest a second chance for the heroine, even as her nightmares threaten to return. Others may view this film and decide that she (and the girl in the first short) have no hope, but I guess I'm just more optimistic. Regardless, I think this film makes a great case against recreational drug use!

Jeremiah Kipp is destined for greater things. His success with Contact earned him the director's chair on The Sadist, a soon-to-be-released film starring Tom Savini (you know, from Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, Creepshow, From Dusk Till Dawn, Grindhouse, and Machete. That guy). He's also produced a darkly comical lark titled Satan Hates You, with Larry Fessenden and Angus Scrimm.

It's safe to say that Mr. Kipp's work transcends the horror genre, which even for a fan can conjure up some negative associations every now and then. His films are dark, dreary, full of suffering, and, to my eye, offer a sliver of hope. They show a confident director with a bold cast. And they prove that you don't need a big budget, just a big imagination. You can watch Contact here, and be sure to check out his trailer for The Sadist, which reminds me of some of the best classic slashers from the 1970s and 1980s. A special thank you to Jeremiah Kipp for providing the links and sharing his excellent work with The Haunted Drive-in.

(Editor's Note: These films contain nudity, drug use, and gore, plus mature themes. Viewer discretion is advised.)

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