It always happens. You get the guys together for bowling, some hoops, or in this case, a poker game, and there’s a Ken. You know Ken. He’s the one that’s always late, holding up the game and leaving you just sitting there, waiting. “It’s work,” he’ll say when he finally shows up, and even then he can’t concentrate on the game—nope, he’s brought some work along to finish up. It doesn’t really matter what that work is. Ken could be an accountant, or a computer programmer, or a tax preparer. Why can’t he leave this stuff at the office?
In The Fifth, that’s the question that dominates the conversation as three of four friends welcome a new “fifth” to their weekly poker game. Brian is excited to be there. He’s heard about the game and is looking forward of an evening of men playing cards. Jerry’s a bit grumpy, but that’s just his way. Finally Ken shows up, and yes, he’s brought work with him: the corpse of a hooker. As is calmly explained to Brian, Ken is a serial killer. No, this isn’t horror. It’s dark, dark comedy. The problem isn’t that Ken’s a murderer who carries out unwholesome acts on his victims’ lifeless bodies, but that he just can’t separate work from poker.
Writer/director Ryan A. Levin doesn’t hold back. There’s plenty of blood spray (which really can slow down a game) and twisted dialog (it’s hard to decide if you want to cut off a victim’s face and wear it), which will leave all but the most sensitive viewer breathless from laughter. For those sensitive viewers: the language will have them running for cover before the first mention of the bowl made from dried human skin. It’s the dichotomy of Ken’s blood-letting and violence with the matter-of-fact acceptance from his friends that makes the jokes hit.
The Fifth is a small film (one set and limited movement) but looks clean, crisp, and professional. Tight direction is enhanced by actors who know how to play up a line. Sam Lloyd is the standout as the nebbish psychopath, making the dilemma of having one’s prostitute-victim escape through a hole in a fence equivalent to the office copier breaking down. The rest of the cast support him as smiling or horrified straight men producing almost as many laughs.
The film has a strong Scrubs connection. Levin was a production assistant on the TV series as well as part time script writer, Sam Lloyd (madman Ken) a regular cast member, and Robert Beckwith and George Miserlis (two of the more accepting card players) have made guest appearances.
The Fifth first came to my attention as a submission to the ’07 Dragon*Con Independent Short Film Festival (I am the festival’s director in case that bit of trivia slipped through the cracks). It won for best Dark Comedy and went on to pick up the Audience Award at the Dead By Dawn fest and took the Golden Prize as Best Short Film at the Fantasia Film Festival.