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Thursday, 2 January 2014

Encounter (2010)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Scott Scheall and Jennifer E Rio
Travis Mills and his Running Wild team met their undeniably ambitious challenge for 2013, to shoot 52 short films, all based on stories from the public domain, in 52 weeks. They will be premiered at a three night event at Mariscos Vuelve a la Vida in downtown Phoenix in early February, so with such a wealth of new material about to erupt from Running Wild, I thought I'd travel the other way in time to review the earliest Mills title with an IMDb page that I haven't already covered at Apocalypse Later. It's an old film for Running Wild, a 2010 comedy short called Encounter, that hints at where they would go in the coming years but also shows that in many ways they hadn't got there yet. It's a little rough, especially in the sound department, for which there's no credit; presumably they hadn't found James Alire yet. It isn't a shining example of camerawork either (though the back and forth on the bench is surprisingly effective), but the editing partly makes up. However the rest is all a little reminiscent of future work.

We open in a parking lot where an unnamed young lady accosts a stranger because she thinks it's her ex-husband, Josh. It turns out to be a completely different Josh, who sparks the plot by not just walking away when the mistake is realised. In fact, he's apparently enticed by her abrasive nature. All her body language screams 'walk away', but he asks her to lunch. Her response is, 'I think all men are two faced bastards,' but she accepts anyway and, before long, she becomes the questioner, pressing for all sorts of details. The ending isn't a surprise, given that it was telegraphed at the very beginning, but it opens up other questions that are perhaps the best part of the film. While we find out a lot about this girl, who doesn't have a name, we find out almost nothing about Josh Anderson, for whom we're given two. Is he really just this charming or is there some sort of meaning to their supposedly accidental meeting? The script, by Running Wild co-founder Gus Edwards, doesn't tell us. It wants us to answer that ourselves.

That's one of the tells that this is a Running Wild picture, as primitive as it is when compared to more recent output. So many of their shorts are character pieces, in which actors are tasked to finding their characters even with details missing, often crucial ones. Here Jennifer E Rio does a pretty solid job as a woman clearly still damaged by her broken marriage; it's telling that we're given her husband's name but not hers, as if he's still who defines her. Certainly she's short on trust but quick to temper, which is why we wonder so much about where this film ends up. If she wears her emotions like her lowcut dress, itself a hint that she may be subconsciously looking to move on, Josh Anderson leaves the story as the mystery as which he began it. We're given all sorts of enticing hints about who or what he might be but never actually told much that he is. Scott Scheall underplays the role appropriately, so we wonder at the moments when he does something and especially at the ones when he doesn't.

Encounter isn't a bad short but it's far from a great one. Its value is mostly historical, as an indicator of what would come from Running Wild, at an increasing pace and with increasing technical mastery, over the ensuing years. We've been given a lot more characters for us and the actors both to work to figure out. We've been given a lot more moments in time that are worthy of telling, even if what came before and what might come after may not be. We've heard a lot more old time public domain music, not only in The Big Something, where it was put to much better use than here, where it feels like a placeholder. We've been shown a lot more deceptively clever choreography, where what happens on screen is often notably enhanced by an understanding of how it happens as much as why it happens. We've also been given more sexual deviancy and edgy drama, far more overtly too. The more Running Wild films I see, the more telling early films like Encounter, Man/Woman/Motel Room and The Ruffians become.

Encounter can be watched for free at Vimeo and YouTube.
Details about the 52 Films/52 Weeks screening event can be found on Facebook.

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