In internet years, director/writer Ryan Connolly is an elder statesman. Creator of the popular online filmmaking how-to show Film Riot, Connolly has been inspiring and educating indie amateur auteurs since way back in 2009 (you know, when politics seemed hopeful and DSLRs were the pinnacle of cinematic visual quality).
His popularity as an internet personality notwithstanding, we’re big fans of Connolly as a craftsman. We’ve featured two of his films on this site (Tell and Proximity) and we’ve admired his other work. He’s truly a jack-of-all-trades: a one-man-band force of nature who can shoot, edit, and construct stunning VFX. And, with each film he makes, it’s fun to watch as his resources and production capabilities balloon—every production bigger and badder than the last.
In that sense, Ballistic is clearly his most sizeable production yet, featuring effects and stunt work that wouldn’t feel out of place in a major Hollywood blockbuster. To be blunt, it feels expensive: cars flip, stuff explodes, bullets fly. And, despite its generic-as-hell action movie title, Connolly infuses the short with delightful action beats. It’s the kind of movie where you giggle when people explode: a sandbox of action movie clichés that is viscerally shot and thrilling to watch.
I won’t make excuses for Ballistic’s weakness. Its attempts at story feel less successful than it’s thrilling execution of craft. Set in a post-apocalyptic/future world that feels cribbed from bits of other source material, the film spends a good deal of time setting up questions it doesn’t really answer. It’s also apparently tangentially related to other shorts Connolly has created (Sentinel), but I’m not a nerdy enough viewer to really understand or care about the miniature cinematic universe he’s attempting to create. To be fair, though, the plot here is more just an excuse to watch our heroine kick ass in clever ways. In that sense, Connolly clearly delivers what he knows his fans want. Not only will Ballistic provide fodder for countless YouTube how-to tutorials to appease his rabid young viewership, but it clearly serves as a defining calling card for “Ryan Connolly: Action Director.” In the words of the fictional studio exec in my head: get this guy a franchise already!
Despite the terseness of the dialogue, Hannah Ward grunts and kicks-butt admirably as our hero. And, it’s always great to see Mark Ashworth (of Grape Soda fame) appear in another indie short. Moreover, Connolly just shoots action well. The camera is hand held, but never annoyingly shaky. Likewise, the geography of the scene is always clear and the “rules” of the various weapons and tech-doohickeys are discernible through action rather than dialogue.
We’re curious to see where Connolly goes from here. It’s clear he has the technical chops, but we’re hoping future films show an evolution in his writing (not every ending needs to be an unresolved cliffhanger). Nevertheless, his fanbase is formidable. His skills are immense. At this point, it’s less of an if Hollywood comes knocking, but when.