The Movie Waffler Shorts Showcase - HELL BENT / GIRL IN THE BASEMENT / DARK ROMANCE | The Movie Waffler


We take a look at another trio of recent shorts.

Reviews by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Hell Bent

The Faustian legend dates back to the late fifteenth century, and, you have to give the devil his due, the story has been a go to narrative ever since, with various films and shorts steadfastly adapting the tale’s central dynamic. Faust and his demonic frenemy Mephisto crop up as characters in early Georges Méliès’ shorts, and luminaries from Murnau and Švankmajer to shlockmeister Brian Yuzna have also provided versions of the narrative. Along with the straighter adaptations, eternally infernal films as disparate as Hellraiser and Ghost Rider have applied the Faustian contract more generally, while films like Little Shop of Horrors used the narrative to unite horror and comedy. And now here’s Hell Bent, (Shayne Kamat and Lorenzo Cabello - writers, Foster Vernon - director), which relocates the myth to the mundanity of office politics and local journalism. Michael (Justin Andrew Davies) writes for Brimstone Magazine (oops!), and, as is par for the course for such publications, the magazine is run upon hard lines of competition and skulduggery, with the magazine’s boss (Timothy Cox, amusingly chewing the scenery) offering a promotion to whoever writes the next cover story. It turns out, as luck would have it, that the elderly secretary of the magazine (Agatha - Leslie Lynn Meeker) has a pentagram in the basement which she uses to summon up a demon for a bit of a chat now and again (Ricky, played by Steven Trolinger). It’s great material for an article, but will Michael have the devil to pay?

The use of bathos in Hell Bent is appealing, with Agatha’s unlikely relationship with a denizen of Hell providing most of the film’s amusement. The comedy is fairly broad and fun, with Hell represented as a corporation just as tied to recognisably frustrating rules and mandates as the newsroom is; Ricky frets over paperwork and ‘stabbing pit productivity’. I could have done without the inevitable ‘all churchgoers are hypocrites’ skit, where Ricky stands outside the local parish picking off each of the congregation’s sins – ‘arson, robbery, paedophilia’ (of course) - a joke that fundamentally misunderstands the concept of redemption and is a bit of a lazy pot shot. But, to give the devil his due, the chemistry between the three leads makes for an interesting dynamic, and the film’s look is bright and cartoony, with a (fittingly) Goblin-esque soundtrack.

Girl in the Basement

From consorting with actual demons to facing internal ones, the crowdfunded Girl in the Basement sees Susan (Kt Baldassaro, who also writes and co-directs, along with Jared Skolnick) kidnapped by a serial killer, who stashes her away in his basement. But then he only goes and dies, and leaves the poor girl locked below with seemingly no hope of escape (in a final insult, the fat lump falls across the trap door which leads to the dungeon).

In typical tradition, the survival horror narrative becomes one of self-actualisation. As Susan claws the basement looking for ways to get out, she is plagued by mistakes she’s made in the past, such as some hipster she went with who quoted ‘Vonnegut’ and demanded ‘30 minute blow jobs’ before ‘passing out’. This alluded to stamina comes in handy though as the basement is fraught with challenge, including the world’s most rickety ladder, which splinters on Susan and causes a deeply unpleasant compound fracture (the film’s realisation of gore is painful and impressive).

Girl in the Basement is well acted and directed, but there is a clear problem with pacing. With the broken leg coming so soon, and the utter hopelessness of Susan’s situation communicated almost immediately, there is not much further the film can go in its half hour running time. And so, hopped up on the morphine that the would-be killer has in the basement, Susan just befalls more disastrous injury and bemoans her star crossed past. Which, all in all, makes for a rather depressing experience.

Dark Romance

The 48 hour project is ‘a contest in which teams of filmmakers are assigned a genre, a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue, and have 48 hours to create a short film containing those elements’. I’m guessing that the specifications for Matthew and Ross Mahler’s Dark Romance was black comedy/office worker/a bunch of flowers and the line ’I want that fairytale romance and I’m gonna have it’, as we see said office worker (played by doyen of office situated narratives and real pro, Timothy Cox) pursued by an unseen admirer, who sends him flowers and various notes, building to a climax that perhaps Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction would approve of.

Seeing as the film is confined to the 48 Hour mandates, we can overlook the occasionally awkward performances or ropey shot, but we should also marvel at the ingenuity of the filming (there is one shot from inside an envelope… which houses a severed finger), the snappy pacing and the witty dialogue; the film’s final words constitute a punchline that neatly highlights the film’s gently feminist subtext. Dark Romance is both twisty and twisted, an office romance that actually works out.