Tuesday 15 January 2013

The Guy Knows Everything (2012)

Director: Joops Fragale
Stars: Joe Coffey, Reggie Peters, Jayvo Scott, Ken Luzadder, Sheryl Carbonell and Paul Phillips

At 26 minutes, The Guy Knows Everything is the most ambitious 386 Films production yet and that length may be the only awkwardness in play, as it's long for a short film but too short for anything else. Otherwise it's an accomplished piece, pulling together successes from previous films, most obviously Parting and Date Night, as this film combines the intoxicating charm of the latter with the dialogue driven slow burn towards a twist approach of the former. There's even some of the visual style of Simone, albeit mostly at the beginning as what we see expands during the opening credits from insanely letterboxed to a more expected level of widescreen, surely highlighting that we're going to start with very little understanding which, slowly but surely, will expand until we see the big picture. The result is utterly engaging: well acted, well shot and well written, with just enough left unspoken at the end to keep us wanting more.

The setup is pretty straight forward. Four interestingly diverse friends at a pub table challenge each other with sports trivia for small but fiercely fought money. Holding court as we join them is Kenny, an emphatic man with an Art Garfunkel look who doesn't like to be beaten, while Len is a polite and proper spectacled gentleman of colour, Brick is a more dedicated sports fan in a team shirt and a whole bundle of character, with Jerry filling out the quartet as the oldest and drunkest. It's a heated but friendly night until the new guy walks in with his tattoos and his jaunty hat and his Johnny Depp stylings. He chimes in when it looks like Kenny has won and in so doing sets up a whole new game. He throws four hundred bucks down on the table and challenges these friends to come up with a question he can't answer by midnight. If any of them does, he'll take the pot, growing at the rate of ten bucks a question. They do have two hours to catch him out though.

For a while it proceeds as you might expect; it is called The Guy Knows Everything, after all. By the fourth question, he's answering before it finishes, quietly pressuring them to try harder. It's when Patricia joins in and he knows her name as well as the answer to her question that we start wondering about him, but our four leads don't, as full of Dutch courage as they are. With sober clarity, we see how strongly they're throwing their money away but they're just too close. The montage that arrives ten minutes in, accompanied by cool drinking music, allows us both a break from the questions and an opportunity to pose our own. Clearly this newcomer is somebody, but who? Is he the Devil, up to no good? Or God, walking in mysterious ways? Is he merely psychic, a mind reader plucking answers from their heads? Maybe he's Death in a modern retelling of The Seventh Seal, replacing chess with trivia. It's a good intermission before a sinister second half.
We continue to wonder about him, as his knowledge gets scarier and acutely more intimate, not merely restricted to sports and general knowledge, but we wonder about the others too. While the stranger clearly holds all the cards and knows it, these competitors can't acknowledge that some games can't be won; their sawbucks add up as they reach for increasingly desperate measures to trap him. We might excuse them on the grounds that they're drunk but there's a lot more subtlety to the script than that. What this outsider knows about hockey scores doesn't mean a thing, but what he knows about their darkest secrets does. This is a wonderful device to build character, all their characters, and the four actors live up to that, especially Joe Coffey who is gifted with most focus as Kenny. Paul Phillips fortunately has enough character of his own to avoid overstaying his welcome as the stranger, in a role that could easily have become annoyingly smug and obnoxious.

And so we march inexorably onward to the finalé, which comes in a few neat layers. Not only is there the twist we expect, but much more, all the way to a long outtake at the end of the piece that may just be the funniest such that I've ever seen. When I first read the brief synopsis for the film, it was obvious that there was serious potential to be had, but this goes beyond what I had expected. Andrew Fisk, who wrote the script, with help from director Joops Fragale, did a superb job combining drama, comedy, suspense and horror into one short. The technical side is a notch up again from the previous 386 Films production, even though it's a huge expansion from their usual small casts. When the most obvious flaw is that the end credits misspell 'photographer', surely the big winner of this game is the film itself. The next step is presumably to expand out of the single locations that have characterised all of their films thus far. The sky really is the limit.

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