“Ariel” is the kind of short film M. Night Shyamalan might make if there was an undetected carbon monoxide leak in his house. Its central draw and what makes director Chris Ramirez refer to it as an experimental film is that for half of the 15 minute running time, the dialogue spoken between the married couple (Jesse C. Boyd & Sarah Murray) at opposite ends of the dinner table is inaudible but instead spelled out on the screen in floaty subtitles. The dialogue is muted, but the overbearing score is not. The direction will be familiar to anyone who has ever sat through a student film festival. Lush but showy. Ramirez uses every trick in the book including double cuts, Dutch angles, slow motion, and lingering close ups. The shot composition itself is complex and reminiscent of Tak Fujimoto’s work on ‘The Sixth Sense” and “Signs’, cleverly using reflections to add dimension to the frame.
The experiment ends halfway through when the husband’s voice is heard for the first time. It is admittedly a jarring and effective moment as he accuses her of being deceitful. Ramirez then ratchets up the tension by stacking elements onto the new soundscape. A ticking clock, the squeaking of a chair on the wooden floor, a ringing phone.
What dooms this project is the overuse of double exposure, dreamy cutaways, and checking all the boxes on the angsty arthouse laundry list. Drinking, infidelity, violence, and a metaphorical dinner table straight out of the “Citizen Kane” marriage montage (the most famous montage in the most famous American film). Ramirez doesn’t just take from Shyamalan’s director of photography; he also ends “Ariel” with a twist worthy of one of his scripts.
“Ariel” is a very technically accomplished effort that shows that Ramirez & his cinematographer Robert Patrick Stern have the guns, but are sometimes using bazookas to kill flies.