The Surprise Party (2010) – By James Dubbeldam

The Surprise Party is a 43 min short film by writer/director Christopher Schrader. I had the chance to watch it this month, and to tell you the truth was not excited to review another 40+ min short film.

Right away I was intrigued. The film moved slowly but kept me engaged. Christopher took the time to draw the viewer into the story, creating a mood which ultimately changes drastically- and the surprise is quite a pleasant experience.

The Surprise Party tells the story of Natalie (Alexandra Shepherd) who wakes up at 2:17am, confused and disoriented. When she realizes she’s not at home, she gathers her things quietly and exits. When she arrives at home, her finance Jacob (Ryan Matthew Ziegler) is waiting up for her, obviously suspicious of his soon to be wife. We learn that she has just slept with Nick (Adam Kander)- her best friend. And she’s not sure how to handle it. The next day Natalie and Jacob’s friends (including Nick) are preparing for a party- a surprise party for Jacob’s 30th birthday. But when Natalie brings Jacob to the party- things get a little complicated.

I’m not the biggest fan of long short films. I usually would like to see them shortened, or built upon and made into features. I find 40-something minutes kinda awkward. But I did not have that problem with The Surprise Party.

I’m also not sure where to start- as I usually have more to criticize. To be honest this was one of the best long short films I have seen. It was very well-acted, well-directed, had great music, built suspense and tension- all areas that most short films struggle with.
I saw an issue or two with continuity, but otherwise I spent the beginning part of the movie trying to find areas of weakness or things I didn’t like. But I couldn’t find much- and I was completely drawn into the story. That’s what a film should do!

The film itself overall is of high quality- it looks good, the story is interesting and well-crafted, but most importantly for me the strongest part of this film was the acting. The entire cast was great. How they interacted, the “role” their character played, and how they made it believable. I was expecting scenes and characters to be over the top- but it didn’t happen. Christopher kept them all in line, creating the mood for the film- which changed dramatically more then once. I find in films like this quite often that something goes over the top- but nothing went too far!

Parts of the story weren’t completely believable, and I didn’t understand certain character reactions in the film- but that’s common of major Hollywood films- and very subjective. The fact that I cared enough to get involved, that I let those feelings go says a lot to Christopher’s talent.

Where I find many short films fail is in creating an appropriate mood The Surprise Party succeeded, again and again. If you want to watch a well-crafted, intriguing film this one is for you.

The film can be found (for free!) on Christopher’s website at: