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By midlandsmovies, Sep 20 2019 10:55AM

Midlands Review - Death Knock

Directed by Jason Croxall


A man takes a deep breath in a car before exiting his vehicle and bravely walking up to a house in a suburban street at the start of new dark drama Death Knock, from local filmmaker Jason Croxall.

Grabbing his bag he wanders slowly to the door before we cut back to an office where a stern-looking lady (Evadne Fisher) sits behind a desk and says, “I need you to go and do a death knock”.

What’s that? Well, she explains that a family has lost their daughter in a hit and run accident and we discover the man is a journalist who is expected to grab an interview with the grieving family.

The reporter (Ryan J Harvey) tries to offer some resistance, suggesting a phone call would be easier, but the hard-nosed boss insists and indicates she could hire someone who would be willing.

A nice floating camera and cinematic sheen to the image give the film a movie gloss and the awkward situation the protagonist has been drawn into is nicely set up and explained. Whilst at the same time, the film creates mystery from the outset as to what could unfold once the door is eventully opened. If at all.

An inconsolable mother (Cherry Bagnall) answers and we immediately feel a sense of intrusion into this personal space. However, the man convinces her an interview could help her cause in catching the culprit.

Reluctantly agreeing to the suggestion we enter her living room. Here, director Croxall brings attention to the minutiae of the scene. A framed photo of a lost loved-one, a reporter’s notebook and an air of unsaid tension hangs in the air, portrayed excellently by the subtle movements from the actors.

As the conversation progresses, we are steered towards further friction between the two. Increasing the anxiety and stress, a mis-phrased question leads to further clashes at this most difficult of times.

A powerful short, Death Knock has a unique idea and sensitively tackles issues of grief-stricken parents and some of the shady practices of journalists to get a scoop. Leaving us with a sense of ambiguity at the conclusion the short is a successful examination of media morals and individual integrity.

Michael Sales

Watch the full short below:

By midlandsmovies, Sep 10 2019 09:25AM

Midlands Review - Keep Breathing

Directed by Mark Corden


Siska Media

Keep Breathing is a new independent short film exploring the consequences of a drunken night spent together between a man and a woman, highlighting the complications and emotional aftermath from a night of questionable sexual congress.

Director Mark Corden starts the film after the event, we see a man (Damien Molony) attempting to fix a broken lift inside an office building. Meanwhile we are also introduced to a woman (Emmeline Hartley) who is busy working away at her desk in the same building. As the man finally mends the lift to make his way down to the reception area, we see the woman finishing work rushing to catch the lift, which is kindly held so she can enter.

They glance up instantly recognising each other, and after a moment passes the lift breaks down again and with the power off they are now trapped together. The man radios his colleague for assistance but this will take a few minutes.

What follows in the short is an awkward, dry exchange which he mistakes for flirting. They discuss their first meet and how much of a fun time he had, however the woman balks - she is uncomfortable with both his advances and the claustrophobic setting.

To calm her down he tells her to “keep breathing” and goes to comfort her, his contact catapults the audience into her memory of the night they met.

The grey, airless setting is then replaced with a colourful, vibrant club atmosphere. Our protagonists meet at the bar, their eyes fixated on one another. A fun night of dancing, drinking and flirting ensues ending with a kiss and an exit to the nearest taxi. Corden and editor Drew Davis move skilfully within the film, briskly switching from their night out to the tense elevator where our main characters break down that evening’s events.

Stumbling out of the taxi and into her flat, the viewer can start to tragically see where this night is heading. The next few minutes make for an uneasy watch as Corden isn't afraid of showing those dark, tough moments as the woman is pressured into sleeping with this man. Molony and Hartley give great performances throughout Keep Breathing but it's here where they showcase their talent, turning their irresistible chemistry we had seen minutes before into something more alarming and daunting.

An impressive element within the film is its ability to ground itself within most of the audience’s experiences with life. The main characters are unnamed, they could represent all of us at any time. And not too many people can say they haven't had too much to drink in a club and clambered into a taxi with someone they've just met. Making Keep Breathing universally familiar will no doubt resonate massively with the audience, a huge achievement for the film.

Written by Corden, Hartley and Tommy Draper, their words manage to capture a real issue that has been ongoing for decades but seems more relevant now than ever. Bringing the world to life on screen is cinematographer Beatriz Delgado Mena who gives it that sought after cinematic shine, making it a film that looks at home on the big screen. I enjoyed noticing certain behaviours which were explored and magnified. The unnecessary contact with someone or invading one’s personal space – these small moments haven't been often captured on a short film I’ve seen before.

However, Corden, along with his collaborators, keeps the film in a neutral space. He seems to want to educate and listen rather than lecture and sermonize. Both characters’ reactions are up for discussion which will undoubtedly create much needed debate amongst the audience. Surprisingly Keep Breathing isn't a clear black and white, it is a grey, subtle study of consent in the modern world and how if ignored can have a vast, prolonged impact on the parties involved.

Breath-taking, tense, topical, Keep Breathing is the best short film I've seen for years, it sets a benchmark for how strong and culturally relevant modern filmmaking can be. Watch it, question it, watch it again with friends & family. This film demands to be seen.

Guy Russell

Twitter: @budguyer

Future screenings of Keep Breathing to look out for.

Underwire Festival ‘Boundaries’ programme:

Weds 18th September 6:45pm

The Castle Cinema (Tickets available on sale on their website)

BFI London Film Festival ‘In An Age of Consent’ programme:

4th Oct, 20:40 Odeon (Tottenham Court Road)

6th Oct, 12:20 Cine Lumiere

Tickets for London Film Festival go on sale on 12th September.

For more info, follow the official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages @kbshortfilm

By midlandsmovies, Sep 9 2019 07:19AM

Midlands Review - Jallianwalla Bagh 1919 and Peaky Blinders A New Era

This week we take a look at a double-release of films from new West Midlands film production companies Gurjant Singh Films and Five Pence Productions, which delve into two very distinct historical stories from the past.

First up is Jallianwalla Bagh 1919 directed by Gurjant Singh which is a 1-minute micro short which pays tribute to those massacred by the East India Trading Company in 1919. Given its short length it’s a welcome surprise to see the film mostly shot in slow motion. This extends the visual experience as we see gentle flowing clothes in the wind giving off an air of peace and tranquillity. This is juxtaposed with a screaming military sergeant (Richard Teasdale) and a cut to a primed rifle barrel. A voiceover from the protagonist (Nisaro Karim) provides some context given the film’s extremely brief runtime which was a good use of technique to give the audience background information. The pull of a trigger and the splattering of blood also gives us a brief glimpse of violence. The focus on just one person rather than a group (nearly 2,000 were shot in the struggle for independence) brings home the personal nature of this story to the filmmaker.

The second film is Peaky Blinders: A New Era. Most Midlanders will no doubt by familiar with the BBC TV series crime drama which is primarily set in Birmingham. It follows the exploits of the Shelby family after World War I and the fictional group is loosely based on the real 19th century urban gang who were active in the city from the 1890s.To honour the release of Season 5 in Sept 2019, this fan-film was shot in just 4 hours and set closer to the present in 1950.

This time period allows the short to (briefly) open up a conversation about a time where immigration was a cause for concern for locals leading to tensions running high. The short opens with Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child infamous guitar riff which although is an impactful sound, is simply the wrong song given that it’s associated with the end of the 60s rather than the period aimed for.

The film’s visuals work much better though as we see a gang of suitably attired “peaky blinders” in a pub drinking before they leave and come across an Indian man (Nisrao Karim again) squaring up for a fight before it cuts to a bloody outcome and a promise of more revenge.

In summary, both shorts are technically proficient and tease insights into very different worlds of the past. Their short run-time though merely acts as brief advertisements for longer narratives. Definitely with an air of professionalism throughout, despite my pet-peeve of music choice, they both act as intriguing calling cards for stories I’d like to see more of.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Aug 31 2019 10:33AM

Midlands Review - Off Grid

Directed by Carl Timms


Dark Matter Films

How far will you go to protect your loved ones is a question asked in Off Grid, an impressive new short from Midlands filmmaker Carl Timms.

Opening with an unknown man in the woods at night, he is concerned for an injured woman whose clothes are splattered with blood. We are immediately shocked as we are then introduced to a bearded stranger in a green jacket who strikes the man hard with a shovel.

Strangely though, before passing away the man’s eyes glow a mysterious blue colour before he falls to ground as his friend (Kate Davies-Speak) escapes further into the woods. Yet the fight isn’t over as our attacker tracks down the frightened female, hits her and then her similarly blue eyes fade out to darkness.

So, Off Grid begins fantastically with an intense and intriguing opening sequence filmed at night using great cinematography from Paul Angier. And therefore the film impresses even before the main title appears. I’d advise local filmmakers to take note here as an exciting opening for your story (no matter what the genre) can create mystery using characters in conflict. Later the brief credits are laid over more footage to move along the story. So no time is wasted. If you’re condensing your story for a short-film format then condense most other things too.

Cutting to dawn, the man is John Tanner (played by Game of Thrones’ James Cosmo) who re-sets a bloodied bear trap before returning to a shack in the woods where bed-bound wife Grace (Alison Steadman) discusses with him about the safety of their refuge.

And here the film switches its sympathies from the young victims to the older protagonist – who is the real threat here? As John moves body bags to makeshift graves, he discovers his female victim’s body has disappeared, but we are quickly thrust into a tense moment as another suspicious stranger (Marc Bayliss) arrives and offers to work for a meal.

The devil is in the detail in Off Grid too. The hair and make-up are noticeably apt, the audience really gets a sense of the situation and surroundings from the subtle clothing and dirt and grime along with some gory special effects.

With the stranger welcomed into the shack, their cordial discussion over the table leads to an intense confrontation that instils further paranoia about the characters’ intentions and who each say they are.

The film reminded me a little of 2017 horror It Comes at Night by Trey Edward Shults. The infection, protection, a remote cabin and the constant fear of an unknown presence as a couple try to stay alive are all present but this is a far more engaging film that that (see our review here). The paranoia of the unknown seen in Off Grid also appears in 2019’s The Hole in the Ground (review here) which funnily enough also starred another haunting performance from James Cosmo.

And so as more blue light appears into the cabin, a final fight for survival ensues and Timms has expertly created set-ups and pay-offs which lead the film to a satisfying conclusion.

In the end, Off Grid is one of the most impressive shorts from the region in 2019. Timms has built upon his 2017 short STILL (review here) and develops the dark themes into a fascinating flick.

With twists, turns and a shocking final revelation, the 20-minute film is ultimately a stunning success for everyone involved. And the innovative shots, absorbing narrative and captivating performances from the cast make Off Grid an astonishing achievement that mixes high quality drama with spectacular shocks.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Aug 28 2019 12:40PM

Midlands Review - A Sort of Burial

Directed by Lee Charlish


Korky Films

'A Sort of Burial' is another film from the prolific Korky Films, purveyors of twisted animations and macabre humour. While this is arguably their most wholesome and heart-warming film, the subject matter is still deliciously morbid and irreverently tongue-in-cheek.

It's time to say goodbye to Basil, as siblings Alistair and Carla gather by his graveside with a bloke named Harry to pay their... respects? It's all rather perfunctory, as it's clear Alistair would rather not be there and Harry keeps cracking wise in a most disrespectful way, much to Carla's annoyance.

She's trying to mourn over here! The Vicar can barely get a word in with all the snide comments and feeble puns, but when he is heard it becomes obvious this is no typical funeral...

Not much more can be said about the story without spoiling the twist, though to be honest you're likely to get it almost immediately as it seems to be made fairly obvious from the start. That didn't spoil my enjoyment of the film at all, though, as the tone was spot on and lovingly cheeky. It's a little reminiscent of Death at a Funeral, which is by no means a bad thing!

The actors also do a great job, especially Marian Elizabeth as Carla, who struggles to keep the proceedings appropriately sombre.

There's something a little uncanny in how the film is shot that distracts a little. Perhaps it's the equipment used, or the lighting, but the scenes seem visually off, oddly flat. The framing of the burial scene is also subtly weird and off-putting; the reliance on close-ups makes it seem like the Vicar isn't in the same place as the mourners, even though they share a shot at the beginning of the scene.

Despite these distractions and the sensitive subject matter, this is a fun, cheeky little film, and the dedication at the end caps it off with a lovely warm fuzzy glow. This is one funeral that's sure to leave you with a smile on your face long past the service and well into the wake.

Sam Kurd

Twitter @splend

By midlandsmovies, Aug 20 2019 07:48PM

Midlands Review - Can’t Hide It

Directed by Richard Miller & Grant Archer


Body in the Box Productions

From Body in the Box Productions comes Can’t Hide It, the latest short film offering from the mind of Richard Miller.

The film starts with a woman sat at her dressing table, music playing heavily below, she stares at the mirror directly in front and deeply into her eyes. She seems distressed but we don’t know why. She lowers a festive Christmas jumper over herself, fixes her hair and proceeds to join the rest of the party.

The woman is revealed to be Kim (Esther McAuley) who is in the middle of hosting a Christmas party with her partner (Gavin Fowler). As the guests weave in and out, smiles plastered across their faces we see Kim at ease but with an uncomfortable vibe surrounding her.

We as the audience can detect something is not right, especially as Christmas is supposed to be a joyous occasion and not a tense, strained one.

Over the next few shots we see the couple making their way to a hospital, and as they arrive they gather their thoughts before they head to their appointment. It is apparent now one of them is ill, which is revealed to be Kim.

A nurse prepares her for chemotherapy and places a “cold cap” onto her scalp, this is designed to hopefully diminish the chances of hair loss during the procedure. She doesn’t want to lose one shred of herself to this disease. This is all shot on-location at the hospital in Burton, which adds extra credence to the picture.

Kim calls her parents to inform them of the news, something she hasn’t done until her first session of chemotherapy is over. An understandably emotionally charged Kim struggles as she explains what she will be going through over the next few months. It is tough viewing as we see a determined, strong woman enduring such a tough time.

Directors Richard Miller & Grant Archer successfully manage to portray a “real” relationship between the couple and their reaction to living with this disease. Kim’s partner remains positive and optimistic to support her, as well as throwing in the odd inappropriate joke about the disease to make her laugh. His role in the film is an important one, and the directors make sure to highlight how helpless the other half can feel whilst their loved one is in pain which is a refreshing take to see.

Can’t Hide It benefits from an absolutely powerhouse of a performance by Esther McAuley who deserves heaps of praise for her heart-breaking portrayal of Kim. Her chemistry with Gavin Fowler is also notable, and without this I doubt the film would have resonated as much as it did with this viewer.

I was familiar with Miller and Archer’s previous works such as the brilliant, darkly comic short film The Exchange that they directed a few years ago. However, Can’t Hide It is their best work I have seen so far. It is sometimes hard to look at the screen as it is that moving but only gentle hands could effortlessly move from scene to scene with precision like pace without sacrificing authenticity of the situation.

As the credits rolled I found myself wishfully hoping Kim had beaten it or was at least on the path to, these fictional characters are written with such care by Richard Miller that they could be any one of us or any one we know, it is something a lot of us have experienced first hand or second hand but a film that demands to be seen regardless.

Guy Russell

Twitter @BudGuyer

By midlandsmovies, Aug 16 2019 06:59AM

Midlands Review - The Cold Caller

Directed by Lee Charlish


Korky Films

Made for under £500, The Cold Caller is a new horror short from prolific local filmmaker Lee Charlish of Korky Films

The director says it pays homage to 70s and 80s schlock which can be seen in the opening sequence where we find a with a woman tied to a chair in what looks like a killer’s scary basement.

Bound by the wrists and legs, the eerie location is filled with battered dolls, candlesticks and other paraphernalia that look straight out of Buffalo Bill’s home.

The blonde victim awakes to her predicament and spies a silhouetted person with a cleaver behind some plastic sheeting - the kind you see in an abattoir. The man is also masked in a homemade head covering which nods to similar fare seen in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre crossed with more recent horror Apostle.

The extensive production design has been clearly well-made and each item in the basement seems to nod to a movie in the genre. The director however appears to want to focus on this and so the shots seem a little gratuitous in displaying the hard production work rather than serve the story too much, certainly at the beginning.

However, with a clear love for slashers of the past some later shots certainly hint upon a nasty history in this place – a map with photos of girls pinned on the wall, a disgusting tea set on the table and jars of “who knows what” on a shelf.

Charlish does do a great job with the show-don’t-tell rule though. Tension builds from our own recollection of what these objects could signify from their place in horror cinema. And other than the cleaver on the chopping board and some heavy breathing as the girl begins to realise her plight, a freaky string-infused score is almost the sole sound of the short.

That is before the masked captor is shown creating some food whilst listening to an old-timey record as he possibly prepares a “last meal” for the kidnapped girl.

The film then turns on its head with a big dose of comedy but then quickly turns to a surprising grisly conclusion. The double-hander of the last two revelations are placed so closely in opposition to each other that it could jolt the viewer too quickly from one emotion to another - sadly not allowing either one to hit fully. I suspect that is the intention though and it’s better to be astonished by too much than indifferent with too little.

The Cold Caller then lovingly (can you call it that?) acknowledges the slashers of the past with a sympathetic young adult tortured by a deranged predator. The twist helps give the 3-minute short a bombshell ending and its mixing of tones recognises the roots of classic horror-comedies. So check out the short if you can, as you may just get a satisfying buzz from the tropes which will keep you on the hook from the start.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Aug 11 2019 04:24PM


Directed by Lianne Moonraven


Sat-Nav is a new short film which comes courtesy of Liane Moonraven, a West Midlands based director who tackles a problem that seemingly we’ve all have had with our Sat-Nav but there’s much more than bad directions in this dark drama.

Originally from America, Lianne has made the Midlands her home and apparently the short was brought back from the brink owing to complications in the production.

However, you wouldn’t notice it as the ominous music and digitised font of the title sets up excellently this mysterious short. Vicky Moloney plays Erica Bridges who grabs a coffee on the go whilst explaining to a friend on the phone how she’s not ready to date just yet after a failed relationship.

Entering her car she types in her friend’s Post Code into the Sat-Nav and heads off in her vehicle. More of the scary score accompanies her drive as the male voice on the Sat-Nav calmly gives her directions to her destination.

The technical aspects are more than solid whilst the sound is particularly well mixed and put-together given the various conversations, phone-calls and driving sounds as well as the recorded voice coming from the unit.

Functional without being flashy, Sat-Nav works best in its storytelling. After a phone call from her mum warning her of her ex-boyfriend, the film ratchets up tension as Erica tries to get the unit to recalculate but she gets lost and ends up far from where she thought.

As we continue the drive with her, her ex calls and finally she arrives at a deserted piece of land. The film’s denouement wasn’t too much of a surprise but all the threads that were set up pay off and the unanswered ringing telephone at the end was an eerie final calling card.

Sat-Nav therefore ends up being a laid-back but well executed short and is far superior to the director’s first film Assassins (review here). With a few rough edges to smooth off and if Moonraven can add a dash of cinematic sheen to the mix, then I’m excited for the filmmaker’s next short as unlike our protagonist in Sat-Nav, she’s more than headed in the right direction.

Michael Sales

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