By: Ben Sack
There are a lot of excuses that could be made for this short film. Maybe the bad sound quality and soft focus could be chalked up to lack of quality equipment. Maybe the crayon-looking bruise and blood makeup was due to budget restrictions. Maybe the shaky VFX and amateur title cards stem from a lack of experience with video software.
However, there are many offenses in filmmaking which have no excuse, and this short film, “Earl Grey” by BSJ productions, commits a whole slew of them.
I understand what the creators of the film had in mind when they decided to make it. It was meant to be a short exercise in shock and plot twist. What it turned out to be when they had finished, however, was a short exercise in unmotivated plot, characters, and dialogue.When you learn to write, they teach you to figure out what your character’s goals and motivations are first, and from there you draw your plot and action. The writers of this short forgot all of that.
The first minute of the film is supposed to look like a quaint romantic dramedy; relaxed lounge music plays under art deco titles and the actors are bathed in soft focus. The two main characters, a man and a woman, get ready for a date in a hotel room while talking to each other about useless, hackneyed things like when they’re picking up their children and how much time they have to make love until then. At one point, we see the woman (played by Diana Porter) sigh at the camera and exclaim “I think I want a cup of tea.” My high school acting teacher would have torn her apart for the sigh, she would have called it a “tell,” or a sure sign that you’re acting, but I’ll let it slide. What I take issue with is the complete lack of motivation for the character getting the tea. The only other mention of the tea is in the title, “Earl Grey,” and neither the tea nor the title has anything to do with the development of the story, so why include them at all? This sort of unmotivated garbage litters the landscape of the film.
Then comes the plot twist. It turns out the couple wasn’t going out on a date, they got dressed up and ordered in so that they could MURDER AN INNOCENT COUPLE. No joke. So the logical next step for any audience member is to ask “why? Why did you murder this innocent couple?” Sorry, folks, but you’re not going to get an answer. The characters talk about stealing their victims’ pin numbers and credit cards, which seems like an odd thing for psychopaths to do anyway, but that’s hardly good motivation, as they appear to be well off in the first place. The murdered woman lies on the bed with her stockings down, so maybe the motivation was sexual, but that is never confirmed either. Her fiancé is tied to a chair, and he is still alive, so the woman gets all intimidating and talks to him. Granted, Diana plays a good psychopath, but their dialogue just leaves more unanswered questions. When the victim grovels, “I just want to go home,” the woman responds “Sweetheart, you asked for this. You both did.” Are you wondering if it is ever explained how they asked for it? Well, you guessed it, it isn’t.
I should clarify – there is a proper way to leave questions unanswered in cinema, like the ending of the graduate, or inception for example. This movie did not do it properly.
After a few more minutes of uncomfortable dialogue, the woman chokes the man to death (at which point the audience is treated to an array of exquisitely disgusting choking sounds) and the short returns to its style from the beginning. The music fades back in, the characters continue their amicable and unbelievable dialogue, then put their coats on and leave. Cut to credits.
Why did the main characters murder these people? Who are these people? Why aren’t the murderers worried about getting caught? Why don’t they dispose of their bodies? The world may never know. The world may never care.
Let’s talk about what was done well. Porter is, for the most part, a good actress. She dedicated herself to a poorly written role, which takes a certain amount of integrity and I respect her for it. The sound effects and camera angles are typical of a horror film, and they did their part to enhance the overall feel of the short. These things, however, could not save this piece.
Overall, I believe the most important question to be asked is this: why was this film made? In the eyes of this reviewer, it did not accomplish its goal of shocking or surprising the audience. It did, however, make me angry and uncomfortable.
What will it cost? Four wasted minutes.