Originality is one of the greatest virtues a film can have. But few films are original, not in any grand way. Rather, they tell stories we’ve seen and heard and read hundreds of times before. The better ones present it a little differently, but the basics are old friends. Luckily, originality is only one factor in determining a movie’s quality. Others are at least as vital. If I had to choose one element as the most important, it would be one that’s generally forgotten: economy. The best films aren’t necessarily short, but they are no longer than they need to be. Some films need to be two hours, others three. Most require much less.
John Coven, who spends his days as a storyboard artist on big budget Hollywood productions (3:10 to Yuma, X-Men, The Usual Suspects), is a master of focus. No one has his skill in distilling a standard genre storyline. I stumbled upon Repossessed (Foster on Film review), his follow-up to Out There, several years ago, and have watched it more than any other live-action short. It is the standard ghost story, the one that is re-told in feature after feature, condensed without loss to eight minutes. It was an amazing feat, one aided by his stars, JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist) and Juliet Landau (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
Out There is Coven’s take on the alien abduction picture. Its scope is small, with little more than two actors facing each other across a room, but it covers all the bases. Jeff Fahey (veteran of every other B-movie you’ve ever seen) stars as a disturbed man who may be a victim of alien abduction. Dr. Gerard (Harry Shearer, best known as the voices of Flanders, Skinner, Smithers, Burns, and many others on The Simpsons) is a psychologist who specializes in such cases. Gerard’s tool is hypnotherapy, which in this case might reveal things best left hidden.
Yes, you’ve seen this tale before if you have any interest in science fiction. I’ve watched similar films as part of anthology television series as well as having seen numerous ninety-plus minute features covering the same ground. What Coven does, besides adding a nice dose of style, is cut out the fat, giving us a lean seven and a half minute short which is thoroughly enjoyable. It doesn’t hurt that it would be a pleasure to listen to Shearer read the phone book; the man just has one of those voices.
Out There isn’t going to stun you or make you rethink your life, but it will allow you to cross off any alien abduction movies from your Netflix list.