Few filmmakers can do so much with so little as Sam Benenati. A two-time S/W alum, Benenati follows up his last short, a single-take monologue film, Emily, with Red Light. Although it’s not told with one shot, it’s yet another project where Benenati delivers both emotional depth and visual ingenuity using a very limited set of cinematic resources. Moreover, like Emily, it’s a film that focuses on one actor, giving an impressive, multi-layered performance.
The visual metaphor here is obvious. We’ve all felt “stuck” in life, so what better way to show this existential panic than by literally having a woman parked at a red light for an ostensible eternity? But, while the central visual trope is broad, Benenati’s treatment of it is relatable and specific, his words brought to life by an incredible performance from Jen Tullock.
Red Light is essentially a one woman show and Tullock is the perfect solo performer. She so effortlessly transitions from one fictional life event to the next, playing multiple roles, that it’s astonishing. This is complemented by Benenati’s adept directorial hand. Although the film takes place entirely in the front seat of a car, the way he switches angles and compositions is purposeful, complimenting the fantastic central performance.
But, Red Light is more than just a showpiece for a talented performer. The film straddles both comedy and drama. While there is an inherent ridiculousness (and surrealism) to a stoplight that won’t ever seem to change and Tulock’s impressions and lines, at times, are clearly comedic, the film is full of an underlying feeling of sadness—this wistful notion that a fulfilled life is slowly drifting away from one’s grasp, having settled for the most boring, predictable path possible. This sense of pathos and anxiety, backed by a subtle string score, is what pushes Red Light to the next level for us. Again, few short filmmakers can emotionally kick you in the gut with such a simple set of tools.
As Benenati relates to Short of the Week:
“ After I shot my last short Emily I was inspired by the audience’s willingness to engage with an actor telling a story. To vicariously imagine what they’re seeing through delivery and performance as opposed to just showing the event itself. I wanted to take what I did with Emily and push it further. ”
Red Light is a reminder that when it comes to strong filmmaking the KISS principle very much applies. Focus on what matters: story, character, performance. Jettison the excess fat. For all you cash-starved filmmakers out there, Red Light should be an inspiring watch.
Benenati is currently hard at work on several projects, including several TV pilots and a feature.