Reviews Short Narrative

A Trip to the Store (2019) – 4 stars

Director: Mason Bosworth

Writer: Thomas Jenkins

Cast: Cavan Ferguson, Thomas Jenkins, Daniel Thomas, Zanna Louis

Running time: 11mins

Student films are often given something of a raw deal by critics and festivals. To a certain extent, that is an understandable default position; after all, who hasn’t encountered the film school horror flick in which an overbearing metal track drowns out any and all atmosphere, or an over-ambitious undergraduate comedy filled with juvenile in-jokes which fail to translate for a broader audience?

Thanks to experiences like this, when they aren’t being written off altogether student films are usually corralled into a separate classification for judging. Even when something is labelled “Best Student Film”, then, it still carries a connotation that it simply did the least-bad job, while it is assumed that – due to budgetary constraints, a lack of experience, or an inability to rein in their own ambition – it simply cannot be expected of student filmmakers to yield a polished end product.

That assumption is almost totally wrong, however, and I am exceedingly grateful for films like A Trip to the Store, which seems to exist exclusively to highlight just how irrational such prejudice is. Shaped by Unthank Productions (the filmmaking society of the University of East Anglia), this short is a tightly drilled, well-paced, and – crucially – funny example of the key strength behind student cinema. That is that a great deal of emergent talent can converge on a single project, creating a well-oiled machine bursting with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, without running up an astronomical bill in the process.

Mason Bosworth must take a great deal of credit for this; as Director; supported by Assistant Director Zanna Louis, he has clearly marshalled his team as a first among equals. It is not uncommon for fledgling filmmakers to micro-manage their films – something which you can see when the credits role, and they are named separately as writer, director, lead actor, sound engineer, craft services, etc. etc. – but while keeping the goals of A Trip to the Store clear and concise, Bosworth has clearly allowed the talents of Alex Smith (Director of Photography), Robert Sherrard and Joe Bird (Original Music Score) et al to breath. The result is a film that is more than the sum of its undeniably fine parts.

Thomas Jenkins’ writing shines in particular, bubbling with Peep Show-esque misanthropy which nicely balances its more saccharine moments. The words are perfectly brought to life by Jenkins himself as the lead, and Cavan Ferguson, sniping away as his sardonic super-ego. Ferguson has an irrefutable charm which lends his nagging of the protagonist a sinister edge – as if we are observing someone trapped in an abusive relationship with themselves – but it is Jenkins who steals the show in the film’s emotional climax, finally standing up for himself in a way the audience will be urging him to for the movie’s duration.

It is true that his plot is relatively simple, and not especially original – I have seen many a short in which a protagonist does battle with their demons before shrugging them off to triumphantly engage with the real world. The thing is, rather like if a contestant on Master Chef cooks a burger for the judges, if elements of the production do not come off, there is nowhere to hide. Unlike so many which have come before, A Trip to the Store pulls this off with aplomb, and resists the urge to deliver a more mawkish ending where our hero banishes his inner doubts forever. Instead, we get a much more interesting middle-ground, where his super-ego is still shown to have its uses via an excellent punch-line. We all need a degree of balance between our ego, super-ego and id, without some force to remind us we messed something up, be it a failure to socialise adequately, take out the bins or buy milk.

There are still some factors that mean this film remains something of a rough diamond. In the opening scenes of the film, Bosworth and co deploy sharp editing and cinematography of the kind Edgar Wright regularly deploys – however, the team fail to maintain this snappy visual style throughout the whole 11 minute run-time. At the same time, the swell of the musical theme that accompanies the lead character’s learning process is a little heavy-handed.

Finally, the credits are preceded with a number of outtakes from the production – and while this might seem pernickety of me, I do think this decision takes some of the shine off the end product. Outtakes are only really suited to a feature film, and need to be spaced a good minute away from the end of the action. These aren’t especially funny clips, and they are close enough to the meat of the film that they almost seem to be part of it – like an incompetently cobbled together finale scene where everyone fudged their jobs.

That’s minor in the grand scheme of things though. Overall, Bosworth and his collaborators have served up a near-flawless offering which bridges the gap between comedy and drama seamlessly, while addressing a single, important issue clearly and concisely. Other filmmakers, students or otherwise, should look to this as an example of how to make an impactful and engaging short.

It is to the credit of the Director that this group of talented individuals produced harmony, rather than discord, and Bosworth has clearly exerted keen control over this focused production, while still allowing his team enough space to make the most of their individual skills. A Trip to the Store is something an orchestral achievement as a result, with this team of young, talented filmmakers coming together to produce an exemplary mission-statement, highlighting the promise of their coming careers in the industry.

Are you a filmmaker looking for independent professional feedback like this? For honest, straightforward opinions and constructive insight into how you can improve your work, submit your work to Indy Film Library on FilmFreeway now.

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