So…you’re a filmmaker that’s taking a one-location, minimal-dialogue script, two actors, and a handful of props, setting out to make a film that both demands attention and draws an audience into that world, holding them firmly until the final resolution creates a catharsis of emotion in those viewers…and you’re going to do all of this with less than fifteen minutes of screen time.
No problem, right? Right. And you can make it rain in the Sahara using a paper airplane and some birdseed, yes?
As a writer and filmmaker myself, I can tell you that just that bit about grabbing the audience can be a serious issue, even with a feature-length flick full of clever dialogue and a stable of actors. It takes some serious visual storytelling talent to grab your viewers by the throat and hold them there — making them invest in the characters, whether they really intended to or not — especially in the short film format. By very definition, a short is typically denied a few of the main elements in making your audience care — high on this list being character development, followed closely by any kind of backstory.
However, in his film Face of 4, writer/director Alexander Azzi makes seizing that audience by the short hairs and demanding their attention look like a leisurely stroll through the park on a warm spring afternoon.
A man awakens to find himself in a dark room at a small, simple table with a hinged box sitting on it. Upon trying to rise, he finds that he’s chained to the spot, via shackles bolted to the floor. He can stand or sit, but he’s not leaving this spot. He calls out, but nothing but the echo of his own voice answers him. Desperate to find a clue, he examines the box on the table, finding four sets of what appear to be specialized dice inside, grouped in rising increments of one, two, three, and four. Each die has a numeral “4” etched into one side.
There are crude instructions in the box, telling him “Avoid a 4/walk out the door” and “Roll a 4/your son no more”. As he reads this, a light comes on, revealing his young son, strapped face up on some kind of rack, another rack with a deadly blade attached hanging perilously above him. Terrible realization strikes the man, but what choice does he have but to play this deadly game out to the last?
That’s it — that’s the whole film. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I thought so — at first. But as the fantastic setups and camera movements focused on the boy’s plight, to the angst of his father, to the fear in both of their eyes; until the sound of the dice rolling on the wooden table became agonizing; until wanting to see what was on those dice after they rolled seemed all-important but finding the sight just out of view of the camera…
…well, it wasn’t so simple after all. Along with that camera-work I mentioned, the dark, shadowy background and simple props coalesced with some stellar performances by William Galatis and Trip Case as father and son, respectively, creating a nigh-unbearable atmosphere of palpable suspense. When the film was over and the credits rolled, I was surprised by release of the tension — I had been so involved in those tenuous moments, when it was over I almost felt myself fall back into reality. That doesn’t happen very often, and it brought a smile to my face.
A brilliant short, showcasing talent over exposition, proving once again that, in the right hands, less is more — my hat is definitely off to Mr. Azzi. I’m glad I had the chance to see it, and recommend that you Fellow Fans out there that find the opportunity do so as well.