Reviews Short Narrative

Drop Point (2019) – 3 stars

Director: Sam E. Flanagan

Writers: Simon Kyle Parker

Cast: Matthew Bentley, Sophia Leanne Kelly, Mike Gower, Vincent Blackwell

Running time: 12mins

It’s bad enough submitting your film to a critic pre-mauling – but to have your last baby chewed up, and still come back for more takes an admirable combination of determination and self-belief. Admittedly Too Far Gone, Sam E. Flanagan’s first submission for Indy Film Library’s consideration, was not the worst film we received that year, or even that month, but to offer that as a positive would be to damn it with faint praise.

With that being said, Flanagan is back again with another effort finalised after his first review on this platform – and pleasingly his filmmaking does seem to have developed in the brief interim between the two. Drop Point is a fun, thematically engaging short, brought alive by some excellent cinematography, and the commendably gritty performances of its cast.

When we first meet our protagonist Harry, he is selling drugs – and not in the friendly “come in and let’s get stoned like Pineapple Express” way, but rather the “try and ‘bro’ me into another discount and I’ll bury this box-cutter in you” manner. Matthew Bentley excels in this role, giving off an energy which tells us he isn’t an inherently bad person, he doesn’t want to be doing this, but if that’s what it takes to stay afloat, he can be as ugly as he needs.

Harry’s duality is further emphasised by the slightly hasty introduction of Zoe (Sophie Leanne Kelly) moments after a furious confrontation with one of his customers. Unfortunately this is where some of Flanagan’s former issues creep into play – this should be a new scene, giving what has just transpired some time to breath – but instead we hurry straight into a storyline where Harry regrets having lost contact with Zoe. We could maybe have seen more shots foregrounding the everyday details of Harry’s life, or emphasising the strong bond he clearly shares with his boss Jacob (an imperious Mike Gower) – and Drop Point would have hugely benefitted from this. Even in the world of short film, patience is a virtue.

As the plot continues to race along, Harry enlists his shadowy employer to help ‘find’ Zoe so he can talk to her – a slightly odd move since she seems to frequent the same street that he sells drugs from – but Jacob only agrees to do this on one condition: silence her. Gower is fabulously menacing when delivering this news – and it is hard not to feel that his performance isn’t a little wasted on a character who is so inadequately fleshed out. An elderly Northern crime boss who has apparently forged an empire flogging weed would be an intriguing profile to build upon, but again we don’t get much of a motive behind him – or even a reason why he thinks Zoe wouldn’t be silent…

At times, Drop Point feels slightly like it is going through the motions in that sense – as if Flanagan has picked out all the beats from a crime-themed feature film and crammed them into a tiny 12 minute frame. In order to get the most from this approach, Flanagan and Writer Simon Kyle Parker both need to learn to edit his ideas down, and concentrate on fleshing out one core concept slowly, rather than trying to give viewers the whole kit and caboodle at lightning speed.

Speaking of editing, Drop Point does also suffer from a rather unfortunate audio malfunction in its middle segment. The dialogue audio has been ADR’d, as well as being recorded on the camera itself. However, while normally filmmakers would record some disconnected ambience for background noise and mute the video’s audio, both tracks play, with the ADR being louder. At times this gives a strange crackling quality, but at its worst – during a conversation between Zoe and Harry – the two levels of sound are about half-a-second out of sync, making it seem like the pair are suffering from some kind of psychotic break.

This is something Flanagan really will need to concentrate on in future. Drop Point was not even the only film he completed and submitted this month, and while it is understandable that bright new filmmakers can want to get as much done as possible, to have finalised a cut for its distribution without apparently watching it is careless.

It is a shame, because as was the case with Too Far Gone, there are still some lovely pieces of shot composition. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the dialogue writing is technically good – even though it is thrown together to progress things as quickly as possible. Meanwhile the case manage to give off a kind of earthy working-class charm reminiscent of Shameless – so the raw materials are all here if Flanagan is willing to try and do more with this plot, if he is willing to take his time with such a project.

The final shot of the film gives me a great deal of hope that he can deliver on this. As our lead pair head off into the sunset, it seems as though Flanagan has rushed into giving us closure – they are inexplicably heading toward a bright future (moments after Zoe somewhat laughably suggested litter-picking pays “good money”) – only for the camera to slowly pan across to reveal Jacob, silently watching the pair. This is not the cobbled-together happy or sad ending that it seemed – but an ambiguous cliff-hanger, which shows that Flanagan is beginning to understand two of the key tenets of short-film production. You don’t always have to tie everything up in a neat bow, and sometimes, less is more.

Sam E. Flanagan still has a great many things to learn about the art of short-film – in particular he needs to cultivate more disciplined storytelling, and to strengthen his patience during the overall production cycle. With that being said, Drop Point represents a significant step forward from Too Far Gone, with some relatable, likeable characters and excellent cinematography to help paper over some of its broader cracks.

Submissions for the 2020 edition of the Indy Film Awards are now closed, and the new year of submissions will open in March. In the meantime, the very best of the films sent for review will be screened at a day-long event in Amsterdam. Tickets are available from FilmFreeway via the link below.

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