Thursday 26 February 2015

Half Measures (2015)

Director: J Schreck
Stars: Scott Nass and Larry Nass
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in the 2014-15 season. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014-15 submissions.
Half Measures stood out among the early films screened at this year's Breakout Challenge because it was unlike anything I've seen at previous IFP challenges. It's wordless for the most part, an experimental take on camera placement and editing technique, all set within a very cool location, a junkyard for trucks, and with a charismatic but unlikely looking lead in Scott Nass. He's not young and he's not pretty but he does have a strong presence, even with very little dialogue, and I'm stunned that he hasn't got a single credit on IMDb. Based on these five minutes, right down to the very second, horror movie directors ought to be queueing up to hire him because he has the look and the feel that they need, whether as an antihero, a villain or an outright monster. I want to see his last thirty years of output but I'm presuming that's going to translate to searching YouTube for a few local films and making do. He does get dialogue here, though not a lot and only late on, but he's just as good delivering it, ably selling his character's confusion.

The story is so slight as to be almost non-existent. This unnamed character drives through a junkyard on a cart to work on an old green truck. We can guess he's searching for parts but we can't see that as he's mostly hidden under a jacked up cab and we're focused on other details throughout. Here's a panel and some rust, there are pistons, over here we get some more interesting angles. Eventually our attention is concentrated enough on leaking fluid that we know something's will go horribly wrong and, sure enough, the cab falls back onto his left arm. He fights for a while, still wordlessly, until he loses conciousness, or perhaps, dies. The only thing we're missing here is the bubbling of blood to match the bubbling of piston oil, but perhaps that seemed too obvious to director J Schreck, a cool abbreviation of Jeff Schreckler. Then this man just gets up and wanders off because he's moved out of the realm of reality and into something else entirely. Here's where we get some actual story, which could be read a few different ways.
That dominant performance by Scott 'Boss' Nass is what resonated with me most, complemented well by a supporting slot from his brother, Larry Nass, as a sort of gangster devil, but there's more to praise. The feel is built neatly by the combination of a memorable and sparse location, a lack of dialogue to heighten the isolation, imaginative camerawork from Carl Goodwin, an agreeably sun faded desert colour palette and notably strong editing from Schreck which deservedly won one of the film's two awards at Breakout, the other being for sound design. On the downside, I would have preferred a much steadier camera (this isn't shakycam but it's often handheld) and the lighting is inconsistent. Both are relatively minor concerns as they play into the surreal nature of the piece, as does the odd choice to shoot the first conversation in such a way that we assume the two actors were never together and it's only the product of editing. Are these flaws or aids to the freaky feel? Clearly I should watch more Edge Psychotic films to find out.

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