Sunday 7 October 2012

Covet (2011)

Director: Paul DeNigris
Stars: Cavin Gray, Amanda Melby, Kane Black, Cedric Katambwa and Steve Briscoe

Every time Paul DeNigris, professor of digital video at UAT in Tempe, makes another film, I feel a need to track it down. This is the tenth short of his that I've reviewed and I still have his feature film to catch up with, though even he doesn't recommend The Falls, released in 2003. I've also reviewed pictures shot for IFP Phoenix film challenges, including Shine Like Gold, which won out over this one for Best Film at the Beat the Clock Challenge last year. Beat the Clock is a tough concept. Teams are tasked with producing a short film from scratch in only 48 hours: they have to write, shoot and edit entirely within that timeframe. To make it even tougher, they're each given a prop and line of dialogue that have to make it into their film. Covet came second out of 21 films in 2011 and won for best ensemble cast and best use of that required line. It also felt more substantial rewatching it on YouTube than when I saw it at Phoenix Comicon this year.

The required line was, 'As long as it's free...' and the usage is pretty spectacular, even though it's one of the easiest lines to miss because of what's going on when it's delivered. DeNigris and his six, count them, six co-writers, built it into a horror thriller concept that has two crooked cops tangle with an ancient evil. The cops are played by Amanda Melby, who spent six years as the executive director of IFP Phoenix, and Cavin Gray, another regular here at Apocalypse Later. This one means I'm back up to date with his career again, with a review of every film he's been in, a feat I've still only achieved otherwise with Grace Kelly. This isn't his best movie, that being a toss up between Deadfall Trail and DeNigris's Parallax, but he leads it with his grin, playing it half as a capable and deadly cop and half as a backtalking asshat. Melby is more background, tasked for the most part to be wooden but freaky in a sort of Terminatrix mode. She does it well.

Covet is a fast six minute ride that begins with action, as these cops chase a black man with a gun. Pretty routine, you might expect, but once they catch him at a fence and Melby's unnamed character shoots him dead, he glows red and something transfers into her. It's mostly textbook stuff thus far. The chase is all dynamic angles and fast editing. The transfer is straight out of a monster movie, showing nothing but telling us everything. The change in the cop is emphasised continually with every trick in the cinematic toolbook that might be remotely applicable. And on we go, with progression and twists far more plentiful than the running time might suggest until a perfectly shot finalé, with a powerful effects shot that really highlights just how quickly amazing effects can be generated when the right people are doing the work. It's rare for effects in short films with low budgets to work. DeNigris and his UAT crews are emphatically the exception.

That isn't to say this is perfect. It lost to Shine Like Gold for a reason, that film not showing flaws like this one, though Covet is far less clichéd and familiar. The lighting is the biggest problem in this film, as it fails to do justice to a couple of scenes. The colours are oversaturated too and I don't believe there's any deliberate attempt to provide metaphorical meaning. There's even an overlaid digital effect early on that jars because there's a limit to what even DeNigris can do on that front in 48 hours. The story is weaker too than it would be had that writing crew had longer to work on it, the whole 'crooked cops' angle being underdeveloped and hard to even notice in the grand scheme of things. The successes are in the solid ensemble acting, the dynamic drive of the story which blisters along and especially in Paul Rosario's editing, which is one of the chief reasons for that. For a 48 hour film, it's excellent. For a film, it's still pretty capable.

Covet is available for viewing on YouTube.

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