Monday 26 January 2015

Passing (2013)

Director: Stephen Sherwood
Stars: Jim Gray, John Schmedes and Barb Foran
This film was an official selection at the 10th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
A couple of longer mid-set films, Passing and My Date with Adam are both substantial character studies, using science fiction tropes to tell very human stories. They're both flawed but interesting short films, but the flaws and the interest arrive in completely different ways. Passing goes for a deep, fleshed out set of ideas that are initially a little obscured but eventually focus in on what's really going on. However, rather than that revelation being a twist finalé, it's more like the midpoint, because the characters important to the progression of the ideas continue on and we find out a lot more about who and what and why. That's why this is a 26 minute picture, but the ending not being the ending is not really why it runs long. That's because many things are just a little bit off, not enough to be bad but enough for us to notice them in an uncanny valley sort of way: the lighting is often a little too bright, quite a few shots feel like almost good greenscreen even if they aren't and the acting is inconsistent.

As I'm finding is often the case, it's the older actors who are more successful. Jim Gray plays the puzzled old guy who answers the door as the picture opens, to let in an old friend played by John Schmedes. John is the former, Michael the latter. Barb Foran is the last of the leads, playing John's wife, Helen. All three of them have not so good moments because they often seem to be trying too hard. It's not that they're bad actors, it's that they seem to be acting on stage and reading for radio, rather than feeling natural in front of a camera. Schmedes is the most successful and all three have plenty of good moments too. I enjoyed watching all of them, but that's the problem; I should be watching their characters rather than the actors portraying them. They're a few rungs up the ladder from the supporting cast though, who I presume are either non-actors or people fresh to the industry who are trying to make their name. They don't impress too much but, to be fair, they get little opportunity to do so. This one's very much for the old folks.
The script by director Stephen Sherwood is more consistently successful, though it could be trimmed. He sets it up nicely through that initial meeting, removing John's befuddlement through Michael pointing out that, 'I'm here about your death.' 'Oh, that,' he replies and they toast, 'To home!' Anyone who misses that moment, which I've unfortunately just highlighted, may find themselves figuring out what's going on. The base idea could be a futuristic technology thing, or an immortality thing or a deal with the devil thing, as there's someone outside in the car that John thinks is 'creepy as Hell.' But, before we get the explanation, we get to watch John have a glorious time with Helen. I did appreciate these scenes, even though they're the least important from a science fiction angle (but perhaps the most important from a dramatic one), as it's always refreshing to watch older characters actually have energy, have sex, have activity in their lives that isn't just playing bingo down at the old folks' home.

Inspired in part, say the credits, by John Scalzi's wonderful novel, Old Man's War, it aims to create a world believable enough to hang a number of concepts off. This may be the most successful angle to the short, as we work through quite a few during the second half and they both keep our attention and send off our minds to ponder on their ramifications. It wouldn't be difficult to build further stories on the universe that we're given a little glimpse of here. Unfortunately the visual side, while again not being bad, doesn't live up to the story that wants more. Most of these concepts appear and disappear during a conversation, as John and Michael set a stage that we never see dressed or acted upon. I did enjoy Passing, but I'm more intrigued in what happens behind its story: what went before, what will come after and what's happening off screen as this little drama unfolds. A tagline for this could be as human as a truism Michael tells John: 'The price of love is loss.' But, as human as this story is, it wants to be a heck of a lot more.

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