Project Twenty1 is an international film contest located in Philadelphia and affiliated with the Philadelphia Film & Animation Festival. Contestants are given a “common element” that must be incorporated into their film and are then given a total of three weeks to write and complete a 10-minute film short utilizing that element. This year’s element was "starts with a crash" and filmmaker A.E. Griffin has produced a nifty little thriller for the event.
I know Griffin primarily through his films at Rebel Pictures. He is an excellent cinematographer and, along with Michael McCallum, has turned out several superb shorts and features. This time, however, Griffin, along with co-writing and co-editing credits, directs and produces his own short film, "The Girl with Blue Eyes," for ProjectTwenty1.
The film is a thriller about two black ops, each training a new recruit in the deadly art of spying. But it’s tough to know when a recruit is ready to fend for himself–or herself, in this case–and in this dangerous and shadowy world, it’s also difficult to know who is truly on your side and who might become your next enemy.
From the opening scene, director Griffin proves he can direct as well as he can film. This scene, depicting the two black op trainers in a tense conversation, is nearly flawless. From a gorgeous opening shot of Karl (Jeremy Wiersma) looking through a plate glass window that at the city skyline, to the fantastic camera play as the lens focuses first on Andrew (Michael McCallum), then on Karl as the conversation moves from one character to the other, to a great shot of Andrew walking behind Karl and turning to face him with the icy-cold observation, "You’re a dead man, you know that." It is clear that Griffin understands not only how to direct actors, but how to fill the screen with a unique and visually stimulating palette of images. I’ve seen much of McCallum’s work and I truly think he is an exceptional actor. His work in just this opening sequence is a tour-de-force of subtle emotion. His voice inflection and facial expressions are pitch perfect.
This short scene is followed by a cool, flashy title sequence that shows the girl with blue eyes as she walks down the city streets, preparing for her latest mission. There is also a terrific fight sequence that, while just a bit too choreographed, is also flashy and exciting. The title sequence and the ensuing fight scene are reminiscent of Dario Argento’s classic films for the use of bright, primary colors while also reminding one of classic noir for its use of light and shadow. The fight is alternated with clips of a trainee undergoing intensive and sometimes brutal training, further highlighting just how deadly these black ops can be. The juxtaposition between the violence these killers use with the sometimes tender way lessons can be taught is unsettling to say the least. What exactly is the relationship between trainer and trainee? Is there a romantic link (the tender brush of hair from one’s eyes)? Is it sexual? Or is it a dominant-submissive relationship used to mentally build one up then tear them down, eventually constructing a cold-hearted killer who trusts no one?
The music throughout the film is low and subtle and helps to create the emotional rollercoaster that the characters as well as the audience go through. Simple and restrained, the minimalist score by Todd Chappell & The Ideal Setback perfectly highlights the action on the screen. Griffin sometimes chooses to let the music speak to us instead of dialogue and sound effects, an effective choice to say the least. The twist at the end of the film is terrific as well; so is the final snippet of dialogue, again highlighting the coldness with which these people are programmed to kill but at the same time showing that it is exceedingly difficult to remove human emotion from the equation entirely. The final clips are haunting in their portrayal of humans grappling with both their jobs as well as their emotions.
Griffin has directed numerous film shorts over the years, but this is his first that I have seen. It is both cool and arty; emotional and cold. Griffin’s grasp of each aspect of filmmaking, from writing and directing to editing and scoring proves that he is a filmmaker to watch. I certainly hope to see more from him, particularly with a larger budget and more than just three weeks to make a film. And while his latest, The Girl with Blue Eyes, isn’t in public circulation yet, if you are in the Philadelphia area and can make it to the Philly Film & Animation Festival, I suggest you look this film up–you won’t be sorry. Also, stay tuned to Griffin’s website, UnSAFE Film Office at www.unsafefilmoffice.com for more information about his films as well as The Girl with Blue Eyes.