Death is the hardest part of life. A quote that seems so obvious when writing, but holds a secret. The more you think about it - the more the meaning can change on a personal level. Most of us don't want to die. Even the suicidal individual considers death only, as a last resort. A way out. That proverbial "hardest part" seems to fit better, for everyone still living. They're the ones who have to deal. They're the ones who lose. Perhaps the real cruel trick of death? That it reminds the living how short or precious life is. Especially when a life is cut short. Ripped away for reasons of cruelty or hate. This is where Darren Tibbits short film "Pinebox" enters into the fray. On the surface, "Pinebox" may seem as simple a concept as the protagonist himself. However, just below, lay a series of complex elements within a narrative that is surprisingly effective.
Being a short film, I don't really want to write much to give away the story. Much of the appeal comes from the simplistic plot elements - so I'll try and steer clear of any direct spoilers. Taking place in a small town, we can all assume any death becomes an event. When everyone knows everyone else... that's just the way it is. So when two teens are killed it's big news. The fact they were a couple, a gay couple, just help fan the flames. As mentioned, this is a small town - complete with old school ideals of right and wrong. Then we have Merle. The typical small town simpleton, who really doesn't seem to understand why his habit of funeral crashing bothers people. This habit was formed after the death of his mother. Although I won't write why he does it here, I can say his motives are not what you may think. I should also mention Merle has built a casket - as I'm sure you've guessed by looking at the artwork. Like the person who made it, this simple wooden box becomes a living part of the cast for both it's literal use, and it's ability to help heal a grieving family. More on that below.
The technical space of this write-up will be brief. "Pinebox" looks great. No. I didn't write that it looks great for an indie film - it's just a good looking movie. Visually, and regarding the editing and pacing, everything just fits the way it was meant to fit. Kevin Breznahan as Merle manages to portray his character, who is mentally challenged, damn near perfectly. This type of character can be difficult. Merle is not meant to be a person with severe down syndrome. He's meant to be functioning. That, ladies and gents, can be tough. Going a hair far one direction may come across as comic or insulting. Breznahan gets it right and "Pinebox" is all the better for it. Brian Finney as Merle's boss also manages to showcase the patience, and occasional lack of it, just right as well. Yet he also reminds us that within a small town, those people who care for one and other, stand out just as much as those who hate or judge. Anyone who lives, or has lived in a small town will know just what I mean. The families of the deceased are both handled differently by the portraying cast, and also... of course... done really well. "Pinebox" features a talented group of actors and it really pays off. Their combined ability really did pull on those emotional strings. Mine anyhow.
Perhaps the best trick of this short film is the way it tackles some real issues. Hate. Fear. Death. It's all present and accounted for. We're also left to wonder why it literally takes a "simple" man, to understand and empathize without hate or fear. To get past the hubbub of personal ideas, of what is considered right or wrong. The simpleton gets it - leaving us "smart" ones to fixate on things that don't matter. Why do we really care on how lavish a casket should be? Is it for the deceased? Or does it come down to how other people see us? It's all here folks. All these deep questions - contained within a short fifteen minute length. For all the reasons I've written above, and some I haven't touched... "Pinebox" easily earns my personal rating of four and a half stars. Excellent job to the cast and crew. Something to be proud of.