2018 Film Essays

NoBudge Breakdown: June 18-24, 2018

NoBudge Breakdown is a weekly round-up of featured films at NoBudge.

VV NOBUDGE PICK OF THE WEEK: Homing In (Parker Hill; June 21)

Tonally, this atmospheric short delivers from beginning to end. And it’s carried, gracefully, by actress Francesca Root-Dodson. When Joan (Root-Dodson) discovers a man (Tom Davis) in her living room, it’s clear they are familiar with each other. Still, there’s a strange vibe as the two make small talk about dinner, with Joan’s expressive eyes communicating her fear and concern. Imagine an early scene from Hereditary — the calm before the storm. In fact, director Parker Hill frames his characters much like Ari Aster, with the warm color palette and fluid camerawork reinforcing how the female lead wants to feel. Everything’s not all right, though. As the title suggests, this film captures a specific domestic mood, as Joan reflects on her surroundings, and what it feels like to be “home,” even if that place is within one’s mind. The inherent sorrow leaves a mark. Keep an eye on Hill and Root-Dodson.

His Heart Lived in Lonesome Valley (Benjamin Finkel; June 19)

In this mind-bending short, a young man (Daniel Lehman) writes at a table and suddenly loses focus when someone — or something — gets into his head. In this moment, director Benjamin Finkel stages the lead in the foreground, with a spirit creepin’ over the top left side of the frame. It’s a strong image, and the sound design works especially well… major Aronofsky vibes. And when this party-possessed character begins shuffling down the hallway, the horror turns to comedy; I envisioned Christopher Walken in Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” video. Eventually, a speaking green pea enters the narrative, and this is where many directors might try to get too cute. Instead, Finkel serves up a moving sequence about time, memory and grief ala David Lowery’s 2017 film A Ghost Story. It really packs a punch, and the director brings it all back home, so to speak, with an unnerving final image. Though I appreciate the overt horror element, I was hoping for more Tarkovskian vibes.

16 Rachels (Keaton Smith; June 18)

In this eight-part web series, the lives of 16 women are explored through found footage-like sequences. In the first 21-minute episode, a woman struggles with self-image and attempts to maintain effective communication with her significant other. If the first subject looks inward for peace of mind, the second examines the world around her, most notably a man that views himself as “chill” but clearly lacks self-awareness. While 16 Rachels loses its mojo at times, at least in the first installment, the collective visuals and dialogue suggest that it might be worth slowing down to appreciate the little things: a head massage, a balanced conversation, a quiet moment before bedtime. Given the spiritual opening imagery and underlying narrative themes, there’s much to analyze about self-development and digital age relationships, along with the importance of taking a step back and allowing yourself to breathe.

Couch (Michael Bernieri; June 20)

I like the basic premise of this short: self-loathing, time-wasting characters realize that being proactive might get them somewhere. As a whole, though, Couch feels structurally flawed. For example, a male character — checking off all the hipster bro cliches — disrupts an on-going conversation between the central female leads midway through, and the aggressive character archetype (letterman jacket, dangling cigarette, can of beer) painfully disrupts the narrative tone (though it does push the plot forward, I guess). Good direction, good performances, weak middle section. Director Michael Bernieri closes strong with a nighttime sequence — perhaps that would have been a good place to start. Couch is definitely worth a watch, however I wanted to know more about the lead characters, and it seems that a more subtle approach with the dialogue could’ve more effectively underlined the message (given the exceptional framing and production design).

Kayla in 1A (Travis Wood; June 22)

This is an engaging, four-minute short featuring a papier-mâché main character. Kayla in 1A has relatable comedic moments, as an unseen character recalls the eccentricities of a former roommate. And those observations raise important questions about the “unreliable narrator” archetype. Why has this person not asked crucial questions about Kayla after six months? Director Travis Wood keeps it light with the subtextual commentary, and the absence of music works to his advantage by accentuating the clever sound design. Conceptually, I’m intrigued by the idea that some viewers may giggle throughout Kayla in 1A, oblivious to the idea that maybe “Kayla” isn’t represented correctly. Here’s a question for viewers: are you Kayla, or are you the unreliable roommate? Hmm… there’s always someone pulling the strings and guiding the narrative along. In this case, Wood is literally pulling said strings.

Watch all of the films above at NoBudge.com.

Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor and a freelance video essayist/writer for Fandor. From 2014 to 2017, he wrote over 600 video scripts for WatchMojo, and he’s the author of their first e-book, ‘WatchMojo’s 100 Decade-Defining Movie Moments of the 1990s.’ From 2006 to 2012, Q.V. lived in Hollywood, California and worked closely with ABC On-Air Promotions as the production manager for LUSSIER. He now resides in Fargo, North Dakota and has written for RogerEbert.com, Screen Rant and Crooked Marquee.