Quadro Bizarro: Four Short Films by Thomas Lee Rutter (2007-2010) – By Neil Michell

English film-maker Thomas Lee Rutter, still in his early twenties and already responsible for three micro-budgeted, independently financed genre features ・Full Moon Massacre, Mr. Blades and Feast for the Beast, presents four short films spanning the years 2007-2010 on this self produced promotional DVD. The films, a combination of self written, self edited pieces and collaborative efforts act as a showcase for Rutter’s film-making skills more than they offer anything substantial or memorable in terms of narrative, dramatic engagement or emotional impact. Ranging in tone from the sub-Lynchian to the psychological, with elements of folk horror and a dash of social realism thrown into the mix, Rutter’s short films vary in quality from moments of inspired offbeat imagery and technically adept direction to below par dialogue delivered by amateur actors and unengaging characters within uninspired narratives. The films do, however, show the gradual emergence and evolution of Rutter’s behind the camera technique and growing confidence as a film-maker during the period covered.

A Child’s Toy, from 2007, combines stop-motion photography, a wonderfully atmospheric ambient score by Spectregraph and impressively mixed audio production to create a well realised, sinister tale of a self winding toy doll attacking its sleeping owner. Shot in black and white, and featuring evocative use of shadows and light, A Child’s Toy is an eerie, wordless, nightmarish piece utilising many aspects of the horror genre in an offbeat tale of unborn babies, mysterious toy-makers and a bizarre nocturnal operation. The use of music, and audio effects in general, is a major plus point in Rutter’s films, his musical collaborators are effective and his ear for matching audio to visuals is accomplished, highlighted again in the less successful short Shoe (2009). This sub-Lynchian piece, written by Rutter’s friend Bobby Parker, in which a middle aged man searches for his lost piece of footwear, is apparently ‘a surrealist look at social awkwardness and the ranks of human character’, though its tiresome ‘weirdness” and acutely contrived ‘oddball’ sequences can’t mask a paucity of ideas or a lack of a real dramatic hook. Where the likes of Lynch can engage and immerse a viewer through their untraditional and experimental approaches to narrative, in lesser hands the effect is annoyingly clich馘 and generally best avoided.

Outside (2009), written by and starring Alex Bakshaev, is more formally inventive in its blending of present and past time-lines, memories, recollections and flashbacks as the now homeless Russian immigrant Paul (Bakshaev) recounts, partly in voice-over, how he came to be living on the streets of a small, provincial town. Very different in tone to Rutter’s other films, Outside is a slice of contemporary social realism, albeit one hampered by stilted acting, dialogue and dramatic impact. The documentary style hand-held camerawork, shot on the streets of Kidderminster in England, effectively evokes day to day life in a small town, alternating as it does between bleak concrete streets and the surrounding bucolic beauty of the countryside, but this is let down by an unusually weak score and a flat, uninteresting script. Rutter does, however, make good use of Kidderminster, adapting well to a more expansive range of shooting locations. The final film, The Catalyst (2010), is much closer in spirit to A Child’s Toy than it is to Shoe or Outside, with it’s sinister edge, excellent score by M.W. Wright, audio effects and elements of psychological horror. Narrated in voice-over by a young child, The Catalyst tells the tale of troubled, moderately successful artist Jerome (James Underwood) being inspired to commit murder in order to imbue his work with a sense of depth, an act which pushes him ever closer to the edge of madness. Hounded by an ‘owl woman’, straight out of The Wicker Man guide to folk horror imagery, Jerome finally breaks down and confesses his crime. Once again slightly hampered by amateur level acting, The Catalyst is nonetheless the most formally and stylistically accomplished of the four films on show.

By no means perfect, hampered by a number of conflicting factors and perhaps a little too reliant on Rutter’s Jack-of-all-trades approach to film-making, Quadro Bizarro still contains enough successful moments, both behind and in front of the camera, to believe that in time, and with any kind of a budget, real acting talent and a strong script Rutter could well go on to direct a feature that really catches the viewing public’s imagination.