Today I drink up Happy Hour, the twisted debut short from director Gavin Thompson. Does this dialogue-free, black and white film have what it takes to deliver a compelling story in under twelve minutes? Well, let’s discuss.
The film follows two nameless characters, a young woman (Melanie Jess) who is bringing a young man (David Kim) back to her apartment. However, what appears at first to be a standard night of hooking up takes a turn for the brutal as it becomes clear she has something far more sinister in mind.
The first thing that is of note about this film is that in addition to being black and white it is also utterly without sound other than the boisterous classical music that plays throughout. These are both very bold stylistic choices that can make films come off as incredibly pretentious if not handled correctly. For these choices to work there needs to be a solid thematic reason for choosing them over conventional methods of telling the story otherwise it becomes counter-productive.
I feel like a lot of aspiring filmmakers use B&W in an attempt to emulate the classic notion of indie cinema but what they should know is that those films were primarily shot on B&W stock for practical reasons rather than artistic ones. While Happy Hour does look good in B&W I am unconvinced that it (as well as the music) was used for any other purpose than to try to impose a greater artistic significance on the story. If the story had been complex and nuanced these choices may have carried more weight but as it is it’s very one-note. It (and I feel a spoiler alert is warranted here) gets on one track and stays there without adding any twists, reversals or surprises. The classical music also had a bit of a muting effect on the violence and would have served the film better had it only played during select parts or been turned down so that the screams and sound effects could come through.
I do want to point out though that despite these issues there are also some key things that the film does very well. The actors for one are able to express an incredible amount with only their facial expressions and body language. Both turn in very solid performances but Jess really shines in this regard, allowing her subtle facial expressions to communicate the malevolent feelings underneath.
In addition, the special effects are simple but effective and Thompson wisely chose to stick with gore gags he could convincingly pull off. I also have to give credit for the camera work itself which does a very decent job of guiding the mood of the story through well-conceived shots.
So, all in all a pretty solid short that has some really positive aspects to it but ultimately leaves something to be desired. I do feel that with a more solid storyline in his hands Thompson could be capable of creating something very interesting and worthwhile indeed.