More often than not, when a filmmaker throws themselves out there with a short (or even a feature), they’re naturally trying to impress an audience. The joy of bringing your vision to life gets a little dampened if everyone that sees it is like “Meh“, so typically, such auteurs who go on to become successful are those that cinematically put their best foot forward. Many filmmakers go this route trying to bring a new, never-before-seen spectacle to the screen, and many others try to embellish on what has gone before in a new and exciting way — both of these goals are tough to meet, but the talent to do so is definitely out there; I’ve seen it myself. What is often overlooked, however, are those filmmakers who may not necessarily have the most original of ideas, or the budget/equipment to create that fleeting “next new visual technique”, but instead go back to the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. They take an idea that, while it may not be “new”, per se, they do it right, and with a degree of technical eloquence that showcases their raw talent in a way that no reaching, experimental endeavor could.
Tender is a short film from Joseph R. Davis that would fall into that latter category.
We begin with the preparation of a meal; steak, wine…a fine dining experience, indeed — but was that an extra ingredient in one of those glasses of red? Directly, we come to a cozy conversation between a man and a woman on a couch; obviously, this young man has invited this woman to his home to cook her a meal and get to know her better. This is evidenced in the somewhat awkward, playfully questioning conversation. However, it’s not long before the young lady begins to show signs of exhaustion, quickly passing out, much to the delight of the young man. Mebbe there was something to that bit of sprinkle in the wine glass earlier…and rest assured, the rest of the young woman’s evening will be anything but what she expected.
The film obviously (as with the lion’s share of shorts) doesn’t rely on a big budget; overall, it could have been shot in pretty much any home of anyone you may know. As for the story — well, it’s not one that we haven’t seen before, but it’s certainly not dull, and it never left me bored. At first, the acting may seem a bit stilted, but if you consider the context (young woman on a first date in a man’s home), the awkwardness of the banter is both believable and expected. I would have liked a little more insight into the antagonist — the depth of the psychosis that’s barely hinted at was intriguing, but hey, it’s s short film.
There are no bells or whistles in this work that are going to revolutionize filmmaking, but what Davis and company accomplish here is an example of filmmaking done right; the technical prowess, the variety of set-ups and angles, the lighting, and the overall flow of the visual narrative are done very well. The dialogue has some appropriately creepy turns, and there are plot devices that are utilized properly, without the all-too-often obviousness that’s often a curse of small, microbudget productions. There are no effects to speak of, but there is one scene that suggests something horrific that was contextually well done (you’ll know it when you see it). As Carpenter showed us years ago, what your mind fills in for what you don’t see is often the most horrific of all.
This all conspires to hold interest and suspense, and in my case, had me wanting more — it filled the bill of any good short by having me a) want to know more of the story, and b) filling in the gruesome blanks in my own imagination. This can only be done well with apt, skillful visual storytelling, and I think this production does just that. While it’s not without its faults, of course, I think this film is a fine example of what these filmmakers are capable of.
An excellent calling card and a promise for the future, Tender has me anxious to watch for more in the horror vein from Joseph R. Davis and company in the future.
That’s my two for this one.
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