Short film continually holds out the hope of being a launching pad for unestablished filmmakers. After all aside from the chance to practice the craft, moving up is the only tangible benefit the medium promises. There is still no money in it, and as much as we love you, our dear readers, there aren’t many of us short film admirers either.
Successfully using a short film as a calling card is definitely a long shot, sadly many talented short filmmakers are still sitting on the sidelines, but every few years a situation presents itself that instills everyone with hope yet again. A few years back it was Sean Ellis making a splash with Cashback, and now Alex Merkin might be on the verge himself of becoming the bastard envied by everyone toiling in the short format.
Across the Hall is the reason for that. This thriller is amazingly Alex Merkin’s virgin effort, though he has been active with videos and other projects. I say amazing because it oozes with the kind of professional slickness which made the announcement that he was going to direct a feature film version easy to swallow. Lining up big talent like Brittany Murphy, the feature version of Across the Hall shot last year and if they can surmount some distribution issues that are appearing to be rather thorny, then you’ll see it in theaters soon.
Extended version aside, it seems like it would be hard to top what we see here in this 16 minute short. The extra time would feel like padding. What is presented here even is actually an edited down version of the 25 minute cut which played SIFF and won Audience Favorite at Palm Springs in 2006. Samsung got involved in the filmmaking process, and wanted the current 16 minute, 2 part version as premium content for their www.anyfilms.net venture. Either they’ve let the domain lapse or they put up a real half ass effort in trying to promote these works, but either way, we luck out with some top-notch short film entertainment. While I for one wish to see the longer version of the short, I can confidently say that the film does not suffer egregiously due to the edits.
In the film Grenier stars as Julian, who attempts to talk his friend Terry out of killing his girlfriend who he suspects is cheating on him. Grenier is knocked on TV for his acting talent, or lack thereof, but in Across the Hall he gives a more than solid performance. A phone conversation to open a film is generally pretty low on the dynamism-meter, but the acting of both male leads through the initial setup keeps you present as the film sinks its teeth in early through its rhythym, writing and strong production values. The film sports name talent and seems to have a decent budget behind it, but impressively Merkin displays an awareness of all the tools in the storytelling kit. The introductory shot of Terry highlights this. The shot opens with a slow, meandering jib that is just enough off of a perfect arc to be unsettling in itself. The moment that the unnatural and garish green light is revealed, a slight hi-pitched frequency enters the sound mix, reinforcing that all is not well. To hammer this point home, Grenier asks a simple question of Terry, “How was your day?”, and while the performance of the dialogue does not reveal a change in demeanor or emotion, it does pause. The pause in itself though is awkward in placement, and heightens the newfound tension until there is release and offcial confirmation moments later in a hi-speed montage of violence. This is mastery of all the elements of film, put together with subtlety in the service of story, and it is validation of Merkin’s talent and promise. Regardless of the success or failure of the Across the Hall feature, Alex Merkin will be somebody to watch in the years ahead.