Having judged student films at many a film festival, I figured I knew one when I saw one.
The good ones show a certain polish — craftsmanship — an attention to things significantly less important than script, casting or performances.
A sophomoric freshman feature, a film noir built on young, unfinished (Still in school?) actors and a script that feels about nine drafts away from “Let’s shoot this,” I sat through it saying “student film, student film. Why was this pitched to me and why is this being offered on Amazon streaming?”
And 75 words into writing this review, I decide to google the releasing production company, Black Box Films.
A story about an actress and would-be playwright (Faith Decker) who lets her “character take you where it wants to go,” and is sucked into her play in a black and white nightmare after a debacle of an opening night, there isn’t one character, performance, scene or situation sufficiently intriguing to draw one in.
A playwright who taps away at “The Tungsten Dagger” (Wait, what? Not exactly a “precious metal.”), her tepid “one act” stage thriller. One act, with intermission, apparently./
It’s a kidnap-for-jewels caper. And yes, the play within the movie is worse than the film script. Much worse.
Writing the “villain” is holding her up. And casting the lead. She stares into her mirror so long you hope the theme of “self-regard, self-criticism” will be explored. Not really. You know she’s going to take the title role for herself.
But for all the encouragement of her about-to-move-away best-friend (Britney Watson), opening night goes even more pear-shaped than you’d expect when her beau-leading man (Ian Holt) decides to end their romance, right before curtain.
Hey, he’s memorized the play. He’s seen the range of the leading lady. His character, at least, has understandable motivation.
Later that night is when Sabrina awakens, disturbed by the model she’d wished she could cast as Elodie (Taylor McGlone). Elodie wants Sabrina to alter the course of the play, change its outcome. But Sabrina’s reaction to being in her nightgown, chasing a femme fatale down the black and white streets (of Phoenix, I think)?
“You’re real,” acted with all the conviction of somebody noting the spaghetti water is almost boiling.
It doesn’t get better, it gets worse. But as I say, “student film” is not just a moniker for the works of aspiring filmmakers still in college. Daniel Ziegler’s “debut feature” wouldn’t stand out on many film school campuses as anything more than a project with chutzpah, and not much else.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Faith Decker, Taylor McGlone, Ian Holt, Brittney Watson, Taylor Dahl, Brandon Caraco
Credits: Written and directed by Daniel Ziegler. A Blackbox Films release.
Running time: 1:35