Monday, May 26, 2008


Here's a rarity, a backyard camcorder production that isn't total garbage. AMONGST THEM--grammatically questionable title aside--is a 2008 short film from writer/director Ian Shirley, and while it fails to deliver the promise implied in its beginning, it's still a lot more tolerable than most amateur dreck.

Shirley gets things started right with an intriguing opening shot, then backtracks a little to set up the actual story. It's these early moments that make up the best parts of the film, as Shirley lays out a prolonged montage of a deceptively quiet landscape that's eerily beautiful, accompanied by an impressively strong score. (No music credit is given, so I'm assuming it may have been lifted from another source, but it's very effective--appropriate without being "creepy," with the immediacy of something from a Jerry Bruckheimer epic; I'm just grateful it wasn't another death metal soundtrack.) Unfortunately, this asset is abandoned after the first few minutes.

The film itself centers on a young girl (Cassandra Moreno) in a typical Romero-inspired end-of-the-world backdrop, taking refuge from the living dead in a so-called "safe house" (which, as it's an unfinished structure, doesn't look safe from the elements, much less a zombie plague). The story focuses on Moreno's struggle to stay alive, not to mention sane, amid dwindling supplies and a growing number of the undead. Shirley captures the endless monotony of her plight with solid photography and a languid pace that's never boring--perhaps because it feels intentional--yet doesn't quite engage, either; it doesn't help that Moreno's character goes through the paces, never bringing anything fresh to the story. I did, however, like the understated, almost subtle look Shirley gives his zombies.

Alas, AMONGST THEM is not without its flaws, and they're considerable. Moreno has a great survivor look, hollow-eyed and desperate, yet her clumsy voice-over diminishes the impact of her performance. The physical action is weak to the point of ridiculousness (blame Shirley the "coreographer" for that), its ineptitude threatening to wreck the film's believable atmosphere. The minimal supporting cast is also laughable, especially the lone human Moreno encounters (gotta love his scream, though). Shirley also pulls a bait-and-switch ending that, though it makes more sense than the denouement initially suggested, still feels like unfair storytelling. I especially liked the acknowledgments in the end credits, which thanks "everyone who was apart [sic] of this short film." You're welcome, Ian!

I'm kidding, though. It really is refreshing to see the "Hey! I'm bored, let's make a movie!" mentality produce something that doesn't make my teeth hurt. Sure, it has its liabilities--liabilities that compromise its effectiveness, make no mistake--but Shirley's technical skills really gave me hope. Save your pennies, Ian, and when you can afford to make a "real" movie, let us know.

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