You never know who is watching or recording your daily moves. Theodore Mali's The Beneficiary, a short film screened at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, expresses this idea both in its storyline and visual flair. While we watch the characters move along through the days this movie spans, the screen regularly cuts to different surveillance cameras showing another vantage point, recording common activities that seem like nothing, but could be hiding a crime when pieced together. The entire plot hinges on such an electronic record of a seemingly innocuous phone call, a random stranger that was the victim of a mild case of road rage on behalf of a trucker passing him. Little did this man know his call would be the final straw to get the driver fired, causing Roy Vidrow to look up the complainant's number for payback.
From the start, the film gets you somewhat disoriented by throwing you into the action as Julie Ann Emery receives the life insurance policy of her recently deceased husband. The 'eye-in-the-sky' camera on the ceiling records the exchange and leads us into the credit sequence, finishing on what we would assume to be the start of what this beneficiary will do with the money. Instead, however, we are rewound back in time to see how the husband dies and the events leading up to the event. The husband, Roy, (having a volatile disposition coated with a smile like most of John Kapelos' roles), is the kind of guy you may think the world would be better off without. His temper definitely frightens his wife and risks spilling over into abuse if it hasn't before. So, upon losing his job, you aren't surprised to see Emery risk her own paycheck to go through company files and find the person responsible.
The Beneficiary is a dark story of deception, fear, and death. Collateral damage occurs everywhere, weighing on people's conscience whether they tell themselves it was for the greater good or not. No one could anticipate that a phone call complaint would resonate so tragically, bringing a handful of strangers together for the ride. Vidrow's bloodlust for vengeance and having nothing to loseshowing you how much he truly cares for his wife and their future togethersnowballs into one murder and soon the attempt of another. But through it all, you can't help but look at Emery and wonder how she could have prevented everything. It may be Roy's temperament and anger that directly inflicts the horrors on screen, yet when looking back, his wife is definitely not an innocent.
Without mentioning her accidentally retrieving the wrong number at first, or her warning Joe O'Neil, (Matt Shevin, who also wrote the short), that someone was coming for him, Emery was the person that fielded the complaint over the phone. She could have erased it from her memory and saved her husband's job, but she wanted to see him suffer, not to keep the streets safe, but for selfish satisfaction. Therefore, this simple tale of revenge and murder makes way to expose a much deeper sense of naming responsibility. You don't always have to be the one pulling the trigger to actually commit the crime. And to have that level of contemplation for a 15-minute short, one can't help but realize its power and success.
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