Special agent Kei is in for a surprise. Her and her partners mission? Bring in a facilitator alive. It all sounds easy. Right? I use the term easy loosely - because nothing is ever truly simple. But compared to some assignments this should be a walk in the park. Yet corruption runs deep. Like in the real world, things are not always black and white. It's when Kei is ambushed, things become crystal clear. But also like real life... it may be too late. This is the setup for "Arson" from Christopher Ortiz. A short film that attempts to use it's non-linear nature to keep the pace up - with mixed results. More on that below.
There's an old saying that especially holds true within the film world. Show me. Don't tell me. Movies are mostly a visual experience - and "Arson" is definitely dialog driven. Writing that this is an action piece may be a little misleading - since about eighty percent, or more, of this film consists of talking. Adding to this, is the fact that "Arson" is not presented in order. This non-linear approach is nothing new in the film world, and can work. In this case however, mixed with the dialog heavy production, things get confusing really fast. Although the main plot is easy to follow, I found myself going back to the video for the finer points. Something I'm sure the casual viewer probably won't do.
So back to the exposition. A certain amount of dialog is, of course, needed. Some things you simply can't show well - especially without a few million bucks - visually. It's just easier to have the actors speak about it. There is a limit however. With "Arson" the real issue - stems from the fact a lot of the dialog is not even needed to progress the story. It feels like an attempt to flesh out the characters more. But with a film running at just over thirteen minutes, that amount of character background, or plot explanation, simply wasn't needed. I feel this film could have been done in six or seven minutes. Perhaps starting with a heavily edited conversation in the kitchen - moving to the briefing itself and ending with the confrontation. The bulk of the film being the showdown of act three.
And yet... the performances themselves were actually quite good. There were a few brief moments during the kitchen scenes that felt a little awkward, but not many. For the most part? The characters easily fit into place, and perhaps that was another slight issue. The characters of "Arson" were designed to be less than perfect people. Congratulations. That came through loud and clear. However, save the boss giving the briefing, it was really hard to actually like anyone. Especially Kei, as a person. It was hard to root for her, as her ego seemed to push me away. So on one hand, the acting was spot on. On the other hand? Maybe a different approach should have been taken when writing her part. In the end however, that will be for the viewers to decide.
Now don't get me wrong. "Arson" is actually a pretty good little film. It wasn't like I wanted to stop watching. Quite the opposite - I wanted to see what was going to happen. I went into this film knowing it's low budget nature. I didn't expect a million dollar camera and lighting setup - and expected those little imperfections that make indie film so damn cool. The story itself is solid. The acting is solid - and the technical elements are superior to many low budget flicks I've seen. It all just felt slightly lengthy - and very dialog driven. Almost to the point of being considered a drama - not an action flick. And those action sequences themselves? Honestly? Pretty damn cool. No question about that. I humbly submit a solid three star rating for this short film - leaving mediocrity trailing behind.