It’s hard not to fall for Washland Express, a witty and clever genre mashup which combines rom-com elements with a dash of film noir. The pleasures of the film come fast, are easily appreciated, and at just a bit over 8min, this short film has the added satisfaction of being actually short!
Nearly the whole film takes place in a self-serve car wash, as a woman is approached by a man who wants to ride along. He says he needs to do quality assurance on the wash process, so she begrudgingly consents. However, his intimate and chatty behavior initially puts the audience on edge— “Ohhhh…” one thinks, “this is a victim narrative…a treatise on toxic masculinity overstepping boundaries”. Well, not quite, and the slow thawing of the woman’s demeanor and the genuine attraction that builds is the first hint of the machinations writer/director Camille Campbell has in store for us, via a script that ends up having more twists in its short runtime than M. Night Shyamalan can fit into 2 hours.
Just as we settle into a charming meet-cute scenario, abetted by the impressive chemistry of the film’s two leads: Jennifer Allcott (also a Producer on the film) and Josh Helman (X-Men: Apocalypse, Mad Max: Fury Road), things shift course yet again, introducing black humor and a delightful screwball comedy tone to the proceedings. Spoiler alert! Turns out these are awful people! However their mutual awfulness just might make them perfect for each other. As Campbell explained to us in an interview we conducted for our second S/W:IRL event earlier this month, “if the story says anything about love, it’s that you need to find someone that enjoys what is wrong with you.”
The film represents Campbell’s directorial debut. Possessing a writing background from college, she started out as a creative assistant at Dreamworks, where, through providing coverage on scripts, she learned screenwriting. Washland Express initially began as an exercise, an attempt to break out of her usual voice which she characterizes as grounded indie comedy, and venture into more masculine genres that she had previously felt excluded from. Informed by an abiding love of noirs like the iconic Out of the Past, and the modern Coen Brothers classic Blood Simple, she began with a wanting to tell a story about a robbery, but, as she went deeper and sought to avoid the clichés that mar many stick ’em ups, the script morphed into an interesting fusion of the two styles, with its twists grounded in character dynamics rather than simple trickery. We have an especial fondness for shorts that move fluidly in between genres, and as such we found interplay irresistible. Whether you see it is as primarily a relationship comedy with crime elements, or a crime story with romantic ones, the indeterminacy is fun, and just works.
Campbell’s background in writing leads one to emphasize the script, but visually the film is no slouch. While simply produced, it is attractive, and the limitations of its car wash setting, while tricky, proved beneficial to the film. Because of the fixed duration of the cycle, extensive rehearsals were employed to exactingly choreograph the events of the film, making the shoot more akin to a stage production. Additionally, the wash made lighting and filming difficult, so the crew was restricted to a backseat and dash cam setup for the bulk of the shoot. However the two vantages are skillfully cut, which, alongside the compelling performances, makes the simple setup unnoticeable. Cheap battery operated LED work lights were subbed in to resist the soap and the wax, and colored gels were employed to liven up the visuals and produce a funhouse “tunnel of love” vibe. Like so many great films, the limitations end up improving the work, as the intimacy that results from shooting primarily in the car, and the resulting claustrophobia, both aid the film thematically at different moments.
Washland Express is just beginning its festival run now, debuting this past weekend at LA’s Dances With Films festival, before popping up later this week at Palm Springs ShortFest. Catch it on the big screen if you can, but worldwide audiences can watch it right here on Short of the Week. If you are a new fan of Campbell’s, she tells us that she is currently working on a pair of features: one a comedic biopic of the romance novelist Danielle Steele, the other a dysfunctional family dramedy for indie director, and S/W alum, Kate Phelan. Click the link below for more info on this film and for Instagram handles for this talented creative team.