Reviews Short Narrative

These Few Hours (2019) – 2 stars

Director: Dia Taylor

Writers: Dia Taylor

Cast: Benjamin Newall, Katrina Sebastian

Running time: 7 mins

Dystopian horror is hard enough to do with a hefty budget and the backing of the Netflix talent mill, let alone on a shoestring budget. As the last series of Black Mirror showed, Charlie Brooker is having enough trouble keeping the franchise from becoming a stale self-parody without having to contend with a maximum $100 price-tag.

Dia Taylor’s ambition as a filmmaker has never been in doubt. Shorts she has been behind include an existential sci-fi, and a conceptual meditation on depression. These Few Hours is similarly lofty in its themes, following the struggles of Bentley, a man tortured by a nightmarish new technology that allows him to perpetually relive his fondest memory of a long-lost love.

While the premise is almost directly lifted from Black Mirror, Taylor takes care not to bite off more than she can chew. There is some excellent pragmatic filmmaking on display here – for example, Bentley is transported to the past via a strange futuristic contraption conveniently disguised as a pocket watch someone picked up from a rummage sale – which neatly side-steps the budgetary limitations the film faced when looking to deliver a high-minded concept.

Cinematography and acting are broadly handled well too. Benjamin Newall’s portrayal of Bentley in particular is racked with guilt, while his howls of anguish are entirely believable, though the Director might have better paced this, as he is laying it on thick from the very beginning, leaving his character nowhere else to go. It is here the issues begin.

Having been at his wit’s end moments before, crying like a broken man, in his digitally recreated past, Bentley enjoys one happy afternoon in the park with his former girlfriend, where he makes a point of appreciating every precious moment. Having relived the day, he is much less of a wreck, and even takes the chance to tell Kate (the able Katrina Sebastian) that he loves her – something he regrets having never done while they were together. Given the seemingly conventional route of the plot, this feels like it should be closure that can finally enable Bentley to move on with his life, and stop living in the past.

The problem is the film’s conclusion doubles back on this for apparently no reason. While traditionally, films deliver us a story arc – the action builds to a crescendo, before falling back, and reaching a resolution – These Few Hours flat-lines. Things are terrible for our protagonist, he learns nothing, and things remain terrible for our protagonist.

At the same time, if a film is going to go for an unhappy, nihilistic ending, it needs to do more to contrast its character’s fantasy with their grim reality. Bentley should be on the verge of death, a junkie whose addiction is slowly killing him, and his next fix may be his last. Instead, he seems resigned to revisiting his memories with the same placid indifference of someone looking through their old holiday photos on Facebook.

At its heart, These Few Hours has a solid idea, and a competent cast, from which an entertaining if pedestrian short could be built. Unfortunately, as was the case with Among the Stars, Taylor’s film errs too much on the side of caution – it does not over-reach itself as a budget sci-fi, ensuring its visuals and concept are well within its power to deliver, but it does not do enough with its dialogue or overall arc. As a result fails to convey the adequate amount of darkness or light to help it stand out from the crowded space it is competing in.

The raw materials of a short film are all present, and nothing here is at all embarrassing in the way that a genuinely bad independent film would be. The issue is that there is a lack of originality, grit or wit, which means that the brief seven minute piece ultimately feels like a waste of time, rather than a timeless memory which begs to be revisited.

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