If short films are the calling cards for features that have yet to be made, the converse is also true—feature films can often be traced back to the shorts from which they were spawned. This concept is especially apt when it comes to Too Cool for School, a moody short from director Kevin Phillips and writing duo Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski that serves as a tonal precursor for their feature, Super Dark Times.
If you’ve seen Super Dark Times (highly recommended…it’s on Netflix currently), it’s easy to see that all the tonal building blocks are here: indeterminate 90s time period, a snowy American small town, teenage angst and burgeoning sexuality. And, then, there’s this larger idea—an exploration of the transition from boy to man. That might seem like somewhat tired cinematic territory, but the creative trio of Phillips, Collins, and Piotrowski tackle it with an acute and uncomfortable sense of darkness…that all boys eventually become the monsters society expects them to be. In Too Cool for School, we watch the appropriate (and generically) named “kid” in the middle of this metamorphosis. The filmmakers are clearly interested in a primary question: if you’re always pretending to be a rebellious “bad kid,” when do you stop pretending and simply become one?
Too Cool for School is clearly a proof of concept—the kind of thing you show producers and investors to justify you can actually make the feature film that will cost ten times as much. In that sense, its plot is somewhat inscrutable, a surreal nightmare rather than a linear story. But, the mood? That totally comes through: dark, grim, and tense. And, the 90s aesthetic is clearly a reflection of the creators’ own upbringing—a time when porn was scrambled, phones had chords, and music skipped. When you pair Too Cool for School with the resulting feature film, it feels like an edifying and revealing look into the creative process.
Grab your Discman headphones and play this one loud.