I see the format of short films in general as an opportunity for truly unbridled filmmaking. Even though the filmmakers themselves almost never see much in the way of financial gains from the actual shorts, they are also not beholden to the kinds of artistic compromises so often required to make a feature film marketable. This allows the most daring and talented directors to create short films that delve into dark subject matter and employ experimental techniques to create a vision untarnished by the meddling of outside forces who seek to make it more “palatable” for a wider audience. Directors who take advantage of that freedom are sometimes able to create films that are uninhibited, brilliant art pieces and Heir is one such film.
It is difficult to discuss the plot without giving too much away but I will say that it deals with subject matter that makes most people profoundly uncomfortable. The story centers around Gordon (Robert Nolan) who takes his teenage son Paul (Mateo D’Avino) on a trip to meet up with a mysterious man named Denis, played by Bill Oberst Jr. Tension and dread mount as the film builds towards it’s climax and the disturbing truth about the characters’ true motivations are revealed.
Writer/director Richard Powell takes a surreal approach to the story, clearly influenced by the kind of body-horror featured in Cronenberg’s most seminal work. This proves to be a smart gamble and the special effects are not only exquisitely crafted but give the film a nightmarish quality that will linger in your mind long after the credits roll. In the hands of a lesser director these effects may have undermined what is a very serious and upsetting topic but in this case Powell perfectly incorporates them into the story in a way that does justice to his influences. In fact, rarely outside of Cronenberg’s films have I seen body-horror so effectively used to symbolically portray the horror and darkness that can lurk in human sexuality.
Credit also must be given to the cast whose all around strong performances are a key part of the film’s success. Bill Oberst Jr especially shines with his subtle, menacing portrayal that is bold, daring and absolutely fucking flawless. Nolan also delivers in a big way expertly portraying his tortured character’s emotional roller coaster with subtly and realism. This is all captured in a tightly paced, professionally shot film that completely nails the tone, look and feel of the strange, disturbing story it is telling.
Even beyond the technical proficiency of the film the story itself is what really makes it daring and vital. Regardless of how well a film is shot there must be a deeper meaning to the story for it to cross the line from entertainment to significant art. By discussing a subject that is horrible but undeniably real, Powell elevates his film beyond the myriad of shorts that seek to merely shock and disgust to the all-too-infrequent group that truly have something to say. My hope is that this film becomes available in some way for people to watch outside of the festival circuit because it is without a doubt a trip into darkness well worth taking.