Nickel Children (2010) – By Duane L. Martin

Jack (Easton McCuiston), is a young boy living in the dust bowl of Kansas in the 1800’s with his mother and father. One day, he and his father are working outside, when suddenly off in the distance, they see a massive dust storm approaching. Retreating back into their cabin, they begin to make preparations for the storm by covering the windows, and just as Jack’s mother serves their meager dinner, there’s a knock at the door. A lone man known as Sheriff (Jeremy Snowden) enters. The father retreats to his chair at the table while Sheriff silently sits down and starts drinking from the bowl in front of him. A few tense moments later, the father’s dead, more men enter…Jack’s mother is pulled away to be killed and Jack is taken away.

Jack soon finds himself locked in a cage in a horrible place. It’s a place where young boys are made to fight to the death while the patrons bet on the winners, and the little girls who are captured are sold off for sex. Soon he’s thrown into the ring and must fight for his life against a much larger boy…but that’s not the end of it. Soon, he’s given a little help from a woman who slips him some small metal bars, which he uses to twist apart he chicken wire lining his cage door, and once he and the other children are free, it’s time to get some revenge.

I know that description sounds rather straight forward, but this film has a lot more going for it than just a straight forward story. See, this is a steampunk film, which means it’s an old west story with a sci-fi element to it, both in the visuals, such as costume design, props and visual effects, and in terms of the story itself, such as the cyborg Sheriff uses as an enforcer and the air ship he escapes in. Oh no my friends, this is no ordinary film. This thing is something special.

The first thing you’ll notice about this 16 minute short is how visually striking it is. I mean it just looks amazing. It’s the kind of visuals I would expect, say, in an Alex Ferrari film. The CGI work is extraordinary and well beyond anything you’d ever expect to see in an indie film. The CGI, as awesome as it is, is only complemented by the flawless set and costume design, and it’s the integration between those three elements that makes this film such an incredible visual achievement.

That said, there are two other elements it takes to make a great film. First, the story. Is it coherent and interesting, and does it flow well? The second is the acting. Are the characters believable and do they make you care about them, love them, hate them, or whatever?

As for the story, it’s not an overly unusual story. In a way it’s like the Conan the Barbarian story set in a steampunk world. A young boy’s parents are killed and he’s taken to fight for the pleasure of others, and for his own survival. So while not overly original in a story sense, it is made interesting however, because of the setting and the various characters that inhabit this bizarre world. The problem with the story however, is that it’s just a piece of a much larger tale. Much like we saw with Alex Ferrarri’s Red Princess Blues short, it’s simply a piece of something larger, and not having the before or after part of the story leaves you feeling a little unsatisfied as a viewer, because you know there’s so much more to it that you’re not getting to see. Having those elements and seeing a feature version of this film would make for an incredible experience, and I really hope writer / director Kevin Eslinger will be working on turning it into a feature in the near future.

As for the characters, they were a bit of a mixed bag for me. Everyone did a good job with their roles, but some felt far more natural than others and gave you the feeling they really belonged in this world, while a few felt more stiff and didn’t blend in as naturally. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it was something I did make note of as I was watching the film.

All in all, when looked at as a whole, this is simply a stunning piece of work, and I would absolutely love to see this turned into a full blown feature. Kevin Eslinger is an amazingly talented film maker and I look forward to seeing a lot more greatness from him in the future.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film’s website at http://nickelchildren.eslingerfilm.com.