This will be a review of the CinemaSlice Short Film Double Feature, covering two short film releases by Michael Welborn: Sleep / Humans
The first entry is “SLEEP“
A horror film with a mix of humor and sadism. I feel this film is a lot longer than it needs to be. The opening itself running a slightly-past-tolerable 2 minutes, plus. I’m not sure if the background images really do much for setting up the story itself (rather, justifying the amount of time spent on them). It’s possible there’s some key element among them, but after a couple of viewings it still eludes me – other than establishing a medical-theme. The one nice thing though is the opening soundtrack (by AVZTN), which has a special creepiness to it – the classic haunting sounds do produce a chilling effect, causing uneasiness in the viewer (or at least to me).
The first shot is a close-up of an anesthesiologist (played by Michael Welborn), explaining to a patient who he is and what his duties are suppose to be. We then see the patient (Mr. Covington, played by Brandon Guiles). We quickly learn this is suppose to be an appendectomy. However the bedside manner of the physician is disturbing Covington a bit.
After a few cut-aways showing several medical instruments and syringes being manipulated, Covington succumbs to a sleep-like state. The physician inquires about “the house.” Covington reveals (via exposition) information about that house, and his subsequent actions.
The physician, upon hearing this, explains what his next actions will be (constantly maintaining a calm demeanor). Covington further explains the reasoning (cool, calmly) behind his actions.
On the positive side, this is (I believe) Welborn’s first solo color film (generally his work is black/white), and the visuals are very good. The contrast within the images works well– (color by Nic White). Michael really seems to enjoy using close-up shots (especially showing the actors’ eyes), and such shots are an aspect of his work which I feel is a great asset. This is a perfect vehicle for such shots. The background music doesn’t mask any of the dialogue, but in retrospect it’s a nice addition – an off-setting calming sound. As mentioned earlier, the opening credits track is excellent. Brandon’s acting seems a mixed bag. At times his delivery seems spot-on. But sometimes it just seems … odd (and not in the sense of the plot).
Well, I need to give this a rating. Overall I’m tempted to go with two reels, however the soundtrack itself helps raise this to three reels.
“HUMANS” is the second part of this double-feature.
And I feel it more than makes up for “SLEEP”!
SPOILER ALERT (maybe):
I’ll start by saying this film is a variation on 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game – a classic story of humans hunting other humans for sport. There have been numerous versions over the years, but that doesn’t mean they are carbon-copies. Indeed, there are several twists on the theme itself (my personal favorite is an episode of Gilligan’s Island). This outing has it’s own appeal, while using the basic format of the original.
Dr. Ray Clark introduces the film and makes a couple of other appearances throughout. Though I like him and his excellent performances on screen in several projects, I find the use of him and his character in this film to actually be unnecessary.
Contrasting my comments about the prolonged opening credits for “SLEEP,” here we have about two minutes of the same – however in HUMANS it works quite well. The amusing and appropriate theme song (written and performed by David Waldman) plays over a montage of black and white shots showing all manner of foot chases, stalking, going in ‘for the kill’ and general satisfaction of some characters. It appears those shots were B-Roll footage, or merely filmed specifically for the opening – but I feel they would have been nice to see within the film itself. Still, they do an effective job of setting the stage for the story.
As the theme continues, the film (proper) itself begins – and in color. I’ve talked with Welborn a few times about how he has preferred black and white, and it’s mostly his personal preference. However, I think Michael does a nice job here (and in “SLEEP”), and hope he continues with color films (though some of his work does indeed benefit from black and white, either conveying a different era, environment, etc.).
We first see John Carr wandering around a wooded area. Next is Thomas Hardy working under a car hood. We eventually are treated to a view of Alex Alexandrou, relaxing in the car which Hardy’s working on.
Shortly into the film is a chase scene! There’s a cut to Ray Clark, who utters a few unrelated lines, then the film-proper resumes – Thomas running through the woods, while Alex very calmly is walking the same route. I’m not positive, but I believe the background music here is Metal Mouth by AVZTN. On a side note: there are a couple of strange edits in this segment: the scene pauses slightly, then there’s a ‘jerkiness’ strobe effect (I’m not sure what that sort of shot would be called). I actually think it works very well, and reminds me of a similar edit in the Night Gallery pilot film, during the third story (Escape Route).
Thomas approaches John’s position. As he is about to pass by, John wields the bat, then proceeds to pummel Thomas. Meanwhile Alex hears the commotion and as he draws near, uses his gun to wound John.
There is yet another scene insert with Ray Clark, then the film resumes as Alex is gleefully tracking John. At the same time, the background music is a reprise of “Humans.” This sequence includes not just one, but two nice little twists which I feel make this film totally worth it. The film wraps with another appearance by Clark.
Overall I really enjoyed this film. Yes, this storyline has been hashed and rehashed many, many times. But when it’s done right, as I feel Welborn has done, it’s a very nice piece of entertainment.
What I like:
- The twists at the end really do set this apart from other versions I’ve seen.
- The soundtrack works very well. The upbeat main theme by Waldman helps the quirkiness factor here greatly. The other music, by Ghosts of Huron and AVZTN, also fits the shots/scenes where it’s used.
- The acting is very good. John Carr’s performance could probably use a little polishing. However, Alex Alexandrou truly steals this film. He made his character something special – from the cool, calm delivery of his lines to the ever-present cigar (which I’d thought was just a nice little prop, but apparently it was actually Alex’s idea – mostly because when they were filming, he felt the need to smoke a cigar, and Welborn decided to keep it in. Or at least that’s my understanding – the actual backstory may be different). Thomas Hardy plays Alex’s sidekick excellently, and though he has no lines, he still manages to create a unique character.
- I actually think the credits graphics look excellent. I’m not sure if that was Nic White‘s work (as VFx editor), but in any case I enjoyed them.
What I don’t like:
- The Dr. Ray Clark scenes really do not add anything to the film itself, and actually disrupt the flow (especially the first such interruption, right near the onset of the chase sequence).
- The scene where John Carr opens the trunk doesn’t really convey to the viewer what is special about it. This is partly due to the shortness of the shot (which doesn’t give the viewer much time to see it, unless they’re specifically looking for something). However, the ‘items’ in the shot are not very distinguishable, other than the baseball bat.
- Following that trunk scene, we next see John waving the bat around, and visibly upset. However, this seems slightly confusing. For one, as mentioned about, it’s difficult to figure out what was in the trunk, thus why John is so upset. Also, he’s not yet ‘become’ the prey, though that seems implied until we actually hear Alex asking him if he’d like to join him and Thomas for a hunt. I’m wondering if maybe there were a couple of shots which were edited out from this scene. Still – it’s rather off-putting.
Overall I’d give this film five full reels without any hesitation.
As for considering these two films as a double-feature, the first part (“SLEEP”) truly lives down to it’s name. It’s definitely one where you should feel free to head to the bathroom, then (after washing your hands) make some popcorn. The popcorn will come in quite handy when viewing the second feature (HUMANS).
For the overall experience, I’d give this twin bill a four reel rating.