Short of the Week

The Fifth

There’s one in every group—the guy who always shows up late because he can’t get away from work—like serial killing. Warning: this is a dark, dark comedy. Enter at your own risk.

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.

Matthew is the director of the Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival, which annually brings filmmakers, features, and the best in short film to Atlanta. He writes a monthly film column for the short fiction review magazine, The Fix and maintains a film criticism website,
  • Sondhi

    Jesus, that’s terrible! Great film, but man I need to take a shower…

  • Andrew S Allen

    This is dark stuff you find Matthew. But the acting is great as always, and the subject matter, disturbing.

  • Sparks ‹ Short of the Week

    [...] than the norm, but I suppose it’s time to stop living in denial. Previously I’ve reviewed The Fifth (a twisted tale of death and friendship), Daddy Why? (a twisted tale of death and family), and [...]

  • Alomar

    This film is not that funny. It made me want to make a film myself, just to prove that it’s not that hard to make a better one. I will buy a camera, make a film, and post you the link within 8 months.

  • Jason Sondhi
  • A. Adan

    The review seems to have spoiled everything but I will watch and see, then…

  • A. Adan

    Oh heavens!! What a flawless script & acidic, twisted humour. This is what art should do, seriously. Push our minds to places we have never been. Thank you for sharing it, and respect to the makers.

  • qhr

    did you end up making a film? would love to see it.

  • qhr

    did you end up making a film? would love to see it.