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Death in Charge marks yet another milestone for Writer/Directrix Devi
Snively. I was privileged to meet Devi both at Burbank Int. Film
Festival as well as London Sci-Fi. She very kindly gave me a copy of
the film as I had posted my own film to her. Anyways moving swiftly on
Death in Charge is a bleakly comic and rather tragic film. It follows the Grim Reaper who has inadvertently been drawn into looking after a young child for the evening, co-incidentally after bumping off the babysitter first. This opening forms the basis of the plot and the resulting humour of the film.
Production values for the film are flawless. It looks hyper real in places, with judicious use of bright pastel colours and very hard to spot CG effects. In addition to this, a common fault I see with most short films is not present here ... bad sound. Effects are well done and use of music is well tailored to the scenes.
I can't really comment more without spoiling the film. Devi's own website (I think) has details of where it's playing next. I highly recommend you go see it! It's certainly one of the few films i've ever asked for a copy of!
Bravo Devi! I hope someone gives you some money for a feature soon!
This review is being posted here until The Flesh Farm is back up and
Made as part of AFI's Directing Workshop for Women, Death in Charge is just as the director describes it: a short cautionary tale about a little girl who gets Death as her babysitter. As such, it includes such timeless platitudes as, "The grass is greener ," "You can't always get what you want ," and, "Be careful what you wish for ," and although these life lessons have been beaten to death since the inception of storytelling, the short is still enjoyable enough that you won't want to put a shotgun in your mouth for losing fifteen minutes of your life that you can never have back.
The dominant motif of the film is that despite the immense irony, Death encounters the joys of life through her interaction with a little girl. Yes, Death is a she, which may give a clue as to why she becomes absolutely stricken with her young ward, Whitney. Why Death decides that she must take up the mantle of babysitting isn't revealed until the end, but I wouldn't dare spoil the surprise. Anyway, through Whitney, she learns the simple yet incredible joys of video games, macaroni and cheese, and dehydrated brine shrimp. As her appreciation of life grows, so does her unease about her job, which perturbs Death even more as Whitney is revealed to have a dark side of her own.
Taken at face value, Death in Charge is a rather humorous genre film that manages to include some subtext that film critics find masturbatory. Although this "deeper meaning" is a little more glaring than one may appreciate, it avoids being outright preachy, and let's face it, any movie that has a murderous nine-year-old wielding a Walther PPK against her own mother is pretty badass. It's this type of dark humor that propels the film, and unlike other, similar efforts, the humor isn't overdone to the point that it's obnoxious. Rather, the camp is nigh on perfect, particularly in the opening sequence reminiscent of the fifties.
Unfortunately, there were other slipups that made me want to slam my face into the screen. The most irritating was the pace of the film, which seemed incredibly rushed. While such a pace can sometimes support a comedic approach, in this case, it only comes across as a distraction. For instance, there is a point when Whitney is about to be electrocuted by some faulty wiring, but Death uses her scythe to break the circuit. The reactions and timing were so quick and awkward that I had to watch the scene three times to understand what was happening. Afterward, they immediately move onto something new as if nothing happened. The last I checked, nearly being electrocuted is something that one tends to ponder over for a minute or two. I don't blame the filmmakers too much for this flaw, as I'm sure some time restraints were also responsible.
Finally, some aesthetic choices were a bit of a hindrance. Why they decided to animate the establishing shot of a house is absolutely beyond me, and controlling a small fire in a waste bin wouldn't have been too difficult rather than using CGI. Again, this may be due to some safety regulations on AFI's part. Who knows.
Regardless, Death in Charge remains a competent and fairly entertaining production with solid performances that won't necessarily be embraced by all horror and comedy fans, but it's a fine example of short, aspiring film-making. Next time, however, they should just give the woman more than fifteen damn minutes to make something. To quote Roger Ebert, "I'm giving it a 2.5 in the silly star rating system and throwing up my hands."
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