The Terms (2009) – By Neil Mitchell

The short film and the short story are often overlooked or dismissed as being inconsequential in relation to their longer and more commercially viable siblings the feature length film and the novel. In terms of creation this does them both a disservice as they are equally as difficult to pull off, and in some cases harder to make work than their more illustrious counterparts. Time,place, character, narrative drive, dramatic crises and resolution have to be as fully rounded just as much in a short film as they do in a two hour epic. Jason LaMotte’s The Terms is one of those happy occasions when everything that needs to be done to make a short work is done beautifully.

LaMotte’s ten minute film is based on the short story of the same name by Irish writer Mike McCormack whose collection of stories from which The Terms is drawn, Getting it in the Head, was named as a ‘Notable Book of the Year’ in the New York Times in 1998. A previous short based on The Terms became an award winning film for its director Johnny O’Reilly, so LaMotte had his work cut out for him to do McCormack’s piece justice and to make a second adaptation a worthwhile exercise. He succeeds on both counts as his version of this blackly comic fable of a twisted father/son relationship is perfectly formed, beautifully shot and richly satisfying. The Terms is a period piece, with the panoramic landscape of Devil’s Dyke in Sussex doubling for Ireland, and a two hander between the physically deformed Edward (Ciaran Flynn) and his ashamed father, played by Gary Lewis, the veteran British actor probably best remembered for his role as Billy’s father in Billy Elliot (2000). The simple but bizarre plot sees the pair’s love/hate (mainly hate) relationship collapse after Edward sets fire to their wooded cabin. Swearing to kill the boy ‘The Terms’ are the agreed rules whereby Edward has a fifty yard head start before his father attempts to shoot him dead with one shot. When things don’t go as planned plenty of linguistic interplay and table turning follows, as the ‘freak’ and his cold hearted father fail to see eye to eye. The strange narrative is played out in a totally matter of fact fashion, making the oddness seem normal which in turn creates a disconcerting and slyly humourous atmosphere.

The offbeat tale is backed up with a nicely judged soundtrack that veers between comic and suspenseful notes and a blend of Americana tinged guitar. LaMotte’s direction is confident and assured as you’d expect from someone with a history of directing corporate videos and advertisements whose previous short The Post-Modern Man (2002) won a Gold Medal for experimental film at WorldFest. If LaMotte has plans to move into feature length films then The Terms is the ideal calling card to secure the funding, acting talent and material for him to do so.