Reviews Short Narrative

The Cricket-Man (2021) – 1 stars

Director: Oliver Boon

Writer: Oliver Boon

Cast: Oliver Boon

Running time: 7mins

It’s times like these that my golden rule – avoid reading what the director thinks they are serving you before watching their film – is validated. Had I seen Oliver Boon had promised a ‘sci-fi, horror, comedy’ in the tags when submitting The Cricket-Man for consideration, I would have come away sorely disappointed on all three fronts. Foregoing this information, I just found it a timid, monotonous slog – which might seem like a small victory, but still preferable to having your hopes dashed.

Gregory (Boon) is a man tormented by the chirping of crickets, which have apparently nested in his bathroom. For the majority of the seven-minute runtime, our pyjama-sporting protagonist struggles to get into his bedtime book due to the singing of the insects, sighs, turns the bathroom light on, and flattens the poor creatures crawling about the place, before returning to his reading, and beginning the futile process once more. As the most comedic element of this tedious cycle seems to be how limply he flails at the insects he is apparently slaughtering, we can cross out the ‘comedy’ angle right off the bat.

As to sci-fi and horror elements, the book he is reading happens to be Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis – and so you might very well know where this is going. Not satisfied with leaving the book in our periphery, allowing us to at least feel like we eagle-eyed few have spotted something, Boon ensures to slam the book into the lens multiple times, making us feel utterly babied before the inevitable moment when he and the unwanted insects trade places.

Unfortunately, we cannot avoid breaking a second golden rule here. As mentioned during my recent review of Nowheresville, it is incumbent on independent filmmakers to never, ever, make an overt reference to a film that is better than yours. Widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature, it is safe to say that Kafka’s work is not under much threat of being eclipsed by the wit and guile of Boon’s efforts here. At the same time, by forcing it so belligerently into our line of sight, the film manages to emphasise the least forgivable of its many shortcomings.

During The Metamorphosis we learn a great deal about Gregor (see what Boon did there?) before and after he becomes a “monstrous vermin.” There are elements of humour and sadness in his backstory, and while there is no right way to interpret the novella, these details build toward the reader’s individual interpretation of the story. His standing as a nomadic salesman who subsists on relationships that have no heart in them, his cruel treatment at the hands of the family that cold and thankless work provided for, along with many other aspects of the book blend together to provide a rich fantasy world, brimming with subtext, and ripe for our application of its perceived warnings to our own lives.

In contrast, there is nothing here to help us relate to Boon’s Gregor II. The only thing we can vaguely take away is that we might be more accommodating to the natural world, on the basis that we would not enjoy being treated in the same way were the shoe to be on the other foot. Besides this rather stale and unambitious angle on the concept of a world turned upside down, then, we have very little to distract us from the fact we have neither a supernatural, or scientific explanation for Gregory’s body-switch. While it is not essential for a sci-fi or horror to convincingly explain such a strange turn of events, audiences are only prepared to suspend their disbelief on this basis if they are given something else substantial to get their teeth into.

Kafka’s work, regardless of its believability as a scientific or paranormal phenomenon, pulls its narrative off because of the emotional strings it plucks at, and the enigmatic allegorical qualities it possesses. Without those, there is no real incentive to get involved with the story or its players – and so it is the case here.

The film’s two moderate saving graces are its costuming and its soundtrack. While the rubbery cricket mask is a little simplistic in its construction, it does at least disguise Boon’s woeful lack of range when it comes to conveying facial emotions (though this is a little undermined by superimposing three lamentably poorly green-screened mini-Boons onto the bathroom floor). Meanwhile, Conrad Mata’s superbly deranged anthem One Step Closer to Spring is a misused delight of a soundtrack. The strange, bounding synth and his howling pseudo-blues delivery deserve to be part of something much more unhinged, more edgy, and more imaginative, than the film they have sadly been attached to.

Finding something constructive to say here was always going to be difficult. This should ultimately stand as a warning to other student or first-time filmmakers not to coast on quirky. Simply delivering a pedestrian rehash of a more high-minded or successful work from classic literature is a terrible way to make your film seem like it is more than the sum of its parts. It displays an off-putting lack of ambition, and as well as flagging up all the lesser aspects of your own nascent work, will ultimately come across as lazy.

Overall, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I Don’t Like Cricket Man.  

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