From The Killing to Fargo, crime drama has become hot property in recent years. Adding a real twist to the genre with a refreshing dose of black comedy is S/W alum Rory Stewart (Wild Horses) with his NFTS short In the Grass. A bleak, uncompromising but surprisingly accessible watch, Stewart’s 16-minute film follows an awkward detective as he tries to solve a serial killer case.
“I became really interested in the idea of a detective who is just terrible at his job”
Forming the basis of his movie around one particular image that he formed in his mind – that of a detective unable to look at the gory remains of a victim – Stewart went on to reverse engineer his narrative and its themes from this specific starting point.
“I became really interested in the idea of a detective who is just terrible at his job and how stressful that must be”, the director reveals when discussing how his story originated. “I think everyone feels anxiety about work and those relationships so it felt like a suitably dark but relatable story to explore”.
Set-up like standard crime-drama fare, from story to style, it’s the little moments throughout In the Grass that make you understand this isn’t to be taken too seriously. I mean, how often in a genuine police thriller do you hear the forensics crew shouting excitedly when they find a dismembered penis, or delivering a ‘wanker’ hand-movement behind a detectives back?
Shot with a budget of just £3k, over four cold days in February, Stewart set out to make In the Grass with a particular filming approach in mind. Deciding to try and shoot as few close-up as possible, it was only when a very famous British director saw a cut and scolded him for being “too eccentric” that he returned to the field for pick-ups.
Walking a fine line between crime drama and black comedy, Stewart admits he set out to make “a genre piece that was as eccentric and dry as possible while still telling that kind of story” and personally I think he succeeded. A stylish short with a strong story laced with dark humour, In the Grass has a great central performance (UK viewers of a certain age may recognise lead actor Jeff Stewart from The Bill) and feels unlike anything I’ve really seen in the short film arena before (and I’ve seen a lot!).
Made before Wild Horses, In the Grass is another example of Stewart’s strong directorial voice and another reason we believe he’s a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Currently working on a few new projects he’s reluctant to talk much about until they get the green light (although he did reveal “two of them are based on recent shorts and one is based on a short I never made”), lets hope we get to see at least one of these films in the not-too-distant future.