Whether they involve friends, family, or significant others, relationships change whether we want them to or not. Friends can drift apart, family dynamics can shift in different ways, and love can fade. That’s what’s happened with Gunther (Timothy J. Cox) and his wife of three years, Natalie — it seems as though the simplest remark can start a fight, and Gunther just isn’t happy any longer.
Enter raven-haired Dorri, Gunther’s new flame and apparent soulmate. He showers her with gifts and affection, and poor Nat is completely forgotten. I’m not sure how much Nat minds, though, since she’s a total airhead. No, I’m not being mean: both Nat and Dorri are inflatable dolls. Yes, those kinds of dolls. Admittedly Dorri has a more human face, but she’s also getting perilously close to uncanny valley territory. And perhaps with more human looks come more human flaws as well, for as it turns out even Dorri has her secrets. Has Gunther lost every possible chance at happiness?
It’s a thoroughly zany concept for a short film that takes itself absolutely seriously, to fantastic effect. It’s human nature to sometimes want something simply because we can’t have it, never more so than in affairs of the heart, and this wild satire drives that home. Gunther’s struggles are more than a little laughable, but we can also sympathize with Cox’s pitch-perfect guy next door performance, even as we feel a little superior to him. After all, we’d never treat OUR relationships like they’re so utterly disposable — would we?
A quick glance at Gofundme or Kickstarter will demonstrate how difficult it can be to get financial backing for an indie movie. No doubt many bad deals have been struck by filmmakers desperate for their ideas to come to life, and possibly also by investors anxious to strike it rich and / or become famous, not that either is all that likely in the world of indie film. The deal struck in Le Sequel, however, may set some sort of record for Worst Repercussions for the Most People, since this agreement sets off a chain reaction that would put the Manhattan Project to shame.
Carlos (Kyri Saphiris) is the hopeful director, veteran of 22 films, searching for investors for his next venture. He finds Dirk (Andrew Tiernan) who represents a group of Nollywood investors from the Nigerian film industry. No, they’re not a bunch of princes trying a new scam; the Nigerian film industry is actually huge, and they’re ready to invest ten million pounds in Carlos’s new film, or so Dirk says. His office says otherwise. But the millions are all for Carlos, as long as he puts up half a million of his own. I’m not sure which is the worst part of the whole thing; the fact that he mortgages his house to raise the cash or the fact that apparently none of this is ever committed to paper, let alone looked over by an attorney.
In exchange for his investment, Carlos expects to return six months later to find a large studio set waiting, ready for him to film his horror movie epic, Le Sequel, follow up to Le Fear. Instead, he finds an old, smelly caravan — which for those of us in the States means an old, smelly RV — along with the most unlikely support crew any film has ever had. Carlos’s people, like cinematographer Jacques (Hadrien Mekki) and production manager Jessie (Leila Reed), seem to know what they’re doing, but not so many of the others. For instance, Africa (Roxy Sternberg) is a special effects “expert” with only boundless, misguided enthusiasm going for her, while makeup artist Queenie (Victoria Hopkins) spends far more time hitting on anyone who’s breathing than doing her job. And I do mean hitting, since there’s absolutely nothing subtle about her come-ons.
But none of these doubtful crew members hold a candle to producer / con artist Efi (Seye Adelekan) who’s been in charge of everything, including the substitution of an old, smelly caravan for an actual movie set. I’m guessing he and the other Nigerian crew members couldn’t make it in the real Nollywood and decided to try their luck in England. He’s full of promises — I’d use another word but I like to keep these reviews family friendly — and often seems genuinely confused when others don’t think he’s come through on those promises. In his eyes everything is wonderful, the movie going along just as it should, and I can’t decide if that makes him enviably optimistic or a total psychopath. Maybe both.
Take them and the rest of this zany cast of characters, tell them they need to film a no-budget movie in about five days(!), and you’ve got Le Sequel, or possibly a particularly out of control Monty Python sketch with John Cleese at his most hapless as Carlos. Nothing is scripted and scenes frequently dissolve into chaos, but chaos is just the logical result of these situations and the film manages to be completely realistic and utterly bizarre by turns, sometimes both at once. It’s a bold experiment that doesn’t work all the time, but when a scene clicks it really clicks and any unevenness is all part of the charm. Improv can be ridiculously difficult to keep moving, but the cast manages that task beautifully while staying in character besides, and the result is a riveting, crazed, train wreck of a comedy that’s every indie director’s worst nightmare made into film.
Special kudos to Saphiris, who makes Carlos a true Everyman, someone who’s just trying to chase his dreams as we all want to do, and then has to watch this particular dream slip slowly and painfully away into the depths of the most cursed film shoot ever. Meanwhile, Adelekan’s Efi walks the finest of lines between amoral scammer and likable rogue, though I’m still not quite sure how he managed to avoid being strangled. And all the characters (I wish I could mention them all!) help create the wildest of rides, a twisted journey into the darkest, funniest side of filmmaking that will leave you wondering every moment if things can possibly get any stranger — and they will.
There are at least 16,000 awkward things about dating, especially those early dates. One of the most awkward — and one of the most likely to show up in questions to online advice columnists — is figuring out when to share a potentially sensitive fact about yourself. After all, there can be a fine line between letting the other person get to know you better and completely oversharing, and depending on the subject some of these conversations can be horrifying. It’s one thing to explain that you have an uncle who’s convinced there are aliens living in his rosebushes, and quite another to have to admit that you’re a werewolf, as happens in Simon’s Quest.
Simon (Johnny Pozzi) was a regular guy until one night and one bite turned him into a werewolf. He isn’t alone, at least, even though James (James Tison), the guy who turned him, vanished immediately thereafter. No, this is a world with plenty of monsters around, vampires and demons as well as werewolves, though they generally prefer to be called the afflicted rather than monsters. But Simon hasn’t had the nerve to date since he was turned, and Gwen (Talley Gale) and Robert (Lucas Brahme) want to change that.
It’s a nice thought but they aren’t really all that helpful, since their main focus is on making a documentary about Simon’s life as a werewolf. They get him on Tinder and act as cheerleaders, but I’d be more than nervous enough about dating without two people watching (and recording) my every move. But he gets a match with a guy with the unlikely name of Skyye, and Simon tentatively starts trying to get other aspects of his life back together as well. He joins a support group for the afflicted, and with help from the group’s new leader, Pat (Timothy J. Cox), takes his first steps towards becoming part of the world again. But there are plenty of things waiting to trip him up along the way, and telling Skyye the whole truth might not even be the worst one.
With a solid script and capable directing from Marley Jaeger, it’s a wonderful mix of drama, humor, a touch of fantasy, and a dash of riotous satire — Axe Alucard (Anibal Nobel), monster hunter, is wildly over the top, as is Liz (Liz Days), the former support group leader, though honestly the demon in the group (Krystal K.C. Wilson) seems pretty nice. But Simon’s Quest also has plenty of genuinely touching moments, as Simon is constantly torn between his own deep loneliness and the very real chance that he might wake up the morning after the full moon to discover that he’s shredded the person he cares about most in the world. We all worry about hurting the ones we love sometimes, just not usually quite so literally.
There are obvious parallels between the plight of the monsters — sorry, afflicted — and the similar situations often faced by the LGBTQ community in the not too distant past. And it still isn’t all that easy to be anything other than mainstream in all your life choices, even these days. But this parallel is handled just as discreetly as the monsters are, without a drop of blood or a single sharp, shining fang appearing on-screen. It’s the quiet, gentle Simon and his very ungentle curse that will capture the audience, and rightly so. In these internet days it’s easy to forget that every bit of suffering you hear about has a human face attached — even if once a month that face might turn fanged and furry — and this compelling short film reminds us brilliantly of that.