Tom Jolliffe reviews the short film Neon, which premiered at FrightFest 2016…
It’s a difficult task to create a short film which captivates and challenges an audience. This I know first hand. One might assume that you can pick up a camera and shoot something for nothing. In theory you could, but you leave yourself at the mercy of people working out of kindness or as a first dip of their toe into shooting something. The truth is even with short films you still need to spend money. You are fighting against a lack of demand for them. You’re trying to pull in financing for something that people will generally be loathe to finance due to a lack of perceived return. In some regards it’s hard to capture your audience too. A singular short is very truncated. If it’s not episodic, to some there is no reason to watch what will end briefly before you have time to fully invest (the assumption may be).
However, sometimes the fates align. A budget is greenlit. Some thematic and visual ambition, and you’ve got the potential to capture an audience within your 10-15 minute window. A great short can ultimately be a great selling tool. For the crew or the cast. If you’re then lucky enough you’ll get to play it at a few festivals, maybe you’ll see it on the big screen or garner a few awards along the way.
This brings us to Neon, written and directed by Mark J. Blackman. Well versed in short films, Blackman’s latest film is a high concept fantasy/thriller. The film premièred at Fright Fest in August and has already received excellent reviews. Neon evokes Philip K Dick. Cinematically it’s a mix of Ridley Scott and early Wachowskis, by way of Nicolas Winding Refn. Stylistically there’s a broad spectrum of influence brought together in a way that feels fresh. There’s a clear appreciation of good sci-fi, fantasy and B-movies evident here, all simmered together to give the piece a uniquely “Neon” flavour. It’s beautifully shot by Director of Photography, Stil Williams. Great use of neons and rain soaked frames, with a broad and dazzling palette.
The story is engaging and like all good high-concept films it demands repeat viewings. A mysterious man, forbidden from experiencing love, attempts to end his life to spare his long-lost love from a life of heartbreak. That brief logline just taps the surface and I won’t reveal anything further so as not to spoil the film but this is engagingly told and impeccably acted. You may remember Joe Absolom from Eastenders, and more recently in Doc Martin. He plays the mysterious Elias. Absolom is fantastic. It’s a soulful performance and he invests a lot into the role. This was clearly a project he believed in, he didn’t just turn up to phone it in. Kerry Bennett (Hollyoaks, Casualty) is also great. There’s a good interaction between the two, some real engagement despite the fact they only really share one scene together (they interact over the phone for the majority of the film…without it becoming trite) but they both sell the connection well. The other principal cast members, Bill Hutchens, Fraser James and James Kermack also add solid support.
Aside from looking the part and aided by a committed cast, Neon’s engaging 80’s/90’s vibe is complimented by the music which evokes those great synth scores of the 80’s (which have come back into fashion somewhat thanks to the likes of Cliff Martinez). The score by Paul O’Brien is top drawer. One thing that can often sink a short film is the sound and music. It can make something promising implode and feel like a home movie. However this is technically accomplished in every department of the sound and visual, and O’Brien’s beautifully understated score is the icing on the cake.
Keep your eyes peeled for Neon when it gets its final release. It’s well worth a watch. This was certainly a film right up my alley as an aficionado of many of the films and auteurs this nods to. Invest in it and be willing to watch it again to unearth more layers.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★