From Netflix series Dark to Screenlife feature Searching, in TV and Film, the missing child storyline has almost become its own sub-genre in recent years. With the popularity of the narrative, it can be hard to make something that feels fresh and original in this realm, but Paul Philipp has managed just that with 29-minute short The Peculiar Abilities of Mr. Mahler.
Inspired by historical research and his own personal concerns regarding becoming a father for the first time, Philipp’s film follows the titular Inspector Mahler (rumoured to have “peculiar abilities”) as he interviews the parents of missing child Henry Kiefer. As the investigator goes through his meticulous routines with the distraught mother and father, the tension builds as we start to form our own conclusions on what happened to the young boy.
Cleverly toying with genre tropes, at times the short feels as if it will stray into the realms of science-fiction or psychological-horror, before settling into something much more grounded in reality at its conclusion. Essentially a dialogue-centred piece, The Peculiar Abilities of Mr. Mahler is driven by a well-considered script and some on-point performances from its cast – especially André Hennicke, who delivers his lines as Mahler with such conviction and intensity it really amplifies the authenticity and tension of the piece.
Alongside those stellar performances, Philipp’s has crafted a surprisingly well-paced film – considering the length. The short zips along at an engaging pace, our attention held by the snappy back-and-forth of the dialogue and some impressive production design. The director reveals his short took “over 5 years from the first idea to the finished film”, experiencing difficulties with script development and financing along the way, but all that effort and time was certainly worth it as The Peculiar Abilities of Mr. Mahler is a short that impresses in all departments.
Narrative-driven with a cinematic aesthetic, we only feature films of this length if they live up to our usual expectations and also manage to stay totally compelling for the complete duration of their runtime – Philipp’s film does both. With the quality of his work evident, in particular, the way he handled the pacing of this longer short, it’s no surprise the filmmaker is currently working on the development of a couple of feature projects. Keep an eye out in our Filmmaker Updates posts for news on those.