Death By Death (2010) – By Emily Intravia

A young couple walks into a corner burger stop. Jack (Steven J. Wilson) has forgotten his wallet, but girlfriend Kate (Heidi Ervin) cheerfully offers to retrieve it after a loving peck on the cheek.

She exits. The place explodes.

Thus begins Joel Reid’s 17 minute short film, Death By Death, a high-spirited action-filled black comedy about a love triangle composed of three violent paramours. Jack is a psychopath, recently reformed by the need to organize. His new crime syndicate bores the bloodthirsty Kate, who is soon humiliated in front of Jack’s cronies. To retaliate, she finds an accomplice in the older (and lovelorn) Ben, played with an interesting sadness by Wynn Reichert.

One of the most difficult parts in making a short film is finding ways to flesh out characters without cramming in blatant exposition. Death By Death manages this surprisingly well, despite the trick of directly interviewing the three leads. Their dialogue generally comes off as natural, with each actor bringing charisma to their rather despicable roles as violent, angry people connected by attraction and poor judgment.

At just 17 minutes long, Death By Death doesn’t wear out its welcome. An extended flashback to Jack’s crimes as a serial killer (done in a hilarious montage with increasingly wacky methods of murder) is a pleasant tease at what could probably be fleshed out into a full-length film. Wilson has a seedy charm that establishes his carefree killer persona with ease. Of course, he’s only one part of Death By Death, which has some twisted fun fleshing out Kate and Ben with the same playfully mean spirit.

The basic setup for Death By Death is a tad questionable, as we never really know what unseen entity it is interviewing two dead lovers and the living man responsible for their death. Still, the action is staged believably, even if some of the makeup looks a little too applied. The camerawork is smooth but kinetic, as Reid plays with a variety of styles to establish several different time periods and character point of views. It’s served well by the script, which is funny and fully fleshed out as our three main characters keep the audience invested in the film’s twists. Though it occasionally lapses into grand lines of cliche (“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” etc.), Death By Death nevertheless presents a complete and clever narrative in less than 20 minutes.

Death By Death recently won the Grand Prize for the Professional Class of Best Film at the Action Film Challenge and is now available for purchase on the Best of the 2010 Action Film Challenge DVD. You can order the film at the festival’s official website: http://actionfilmchallenge.com. For more information, you can join Death By Death’s Facebook group here.