Thursday 20 September 2012

Man/Woman/Motel Room (2010)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Dean Veglia and Kelsi Zahl

I'm happy to fall into the habit of letting the first review of the month be of a Travis Mills film and this one may be the most important of all: it's the first picture from Running Wild Films and it set the stage admirably for what would follow, epitomising what this production company has come to stand for. If it isn't the most prolific in Arizona already, with two capable features and twenty five or so short films in a mere couple of years, it surely soon will be, with no less than 52 short film adaptations scheduled for 2013. That's one a week, every week, for the whole year, on top of a couple more features. In other hands that would be insanely optimistic but Mills is a master of the art of guerrilla filmmaking, shooting quickly and cheaply without sacrificing substance or quality. To illustrate, this short film took six hours to shoot on a sixty buck budget with a single set and a cast and crew of two each. This isn't just Running Wild's beginning, its their manifesto.

The minimalist title really sets the scene, because it's almost everything we get. Excluding the establishing shot at the outset, there's a man and a woman in a motel room and that's about it. Oh, and a story, of course, courtesy of Gus Edwards, who co-founded Running Wild with Mills. It's an intriguing little story, given that it tells us next to nothing. We aren't given character names or even their relationship. We have to figure it all out for ourselves. Running Wild regular Dean Veglia plays the unnamed man with the seedy, down to earth calm he put on in The Detective's Lover. It's his motel room and there's not much more there than the unnamed woman played by Kelsi Zahl, who I haven't seen before. Surprisingly, he's the grounding for her, as she's the one with character, lounging seductively on the rumpled sheets of his bed while telling him that he's a pervert who disgusts her. We can't tell if she's a girlfriend, a pickup or a whore.

Zahl fittingly plays her like a cat throughout, pouting one moment and preening the next. She's continually manipulative, but good at playing disappointed when all she gets is blatant honesty in return. She's good at playing curious too, ably switching from doe eyed rejection to intrigued seduction in a single moment. The only thing she can't put on is integrity, as this character will do anything if only it'll get her what she wants. It's a rich character, detail notwithstanding, and Zahl does a great job. I wonder why she hasn't acted more. Countering this fluid portrayal, Dean Veglia is constant and unchanging as her host, brutally honest but still stubbornly not telling us much about who he really is. It doesn't matter particularly. This isn't a whodunit where we need to pick up on clues, it's a one act dramatic scene where the interplay is all. This couple dance their little dance and we're drawn into the drama rather than into any semblance of plot.

It's fascinating to see how much Edwards gives us without really telling us much of anything. The dialogue feels almost throwaway but there's not a word spoken that isn't there for good reason. Don't come to this one expecting Tarantino-style quips. This isn't a script to quote, it's a script to reread and admire for its leanness. Emilio Mejía, Jr's camerawork and editing follow in a similar vein, so good that we don't even notice them until we rewatch and realise that they've quietly done everything that needs to be done. There's nothing here that's remotely flash but then there's nothing here that needs to be. That's not what Running Wild is about, after all. What Mills achieves here as producer/director is the essence of everything that he does want Running Wild to be: character-based story, stripped down to its bare bones, acted and shot well. It's somewhat like theatre could be if it didn't have reality to constrain it. Now go watch it on Vimeo.

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