Ninety Seconds (2012)
Running time: 27 minutes
Director: Gerard Lough
Writer: Gerard Lough
Starring: Andrew Norry, Michael Parle, Claire J. Bennerhassett, Simon Fogarty, Emma Eliza Regan
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
After delving into the world of horror with the terrific short films, The Boogeyman (review) and Deviant (review), Irish director Gerard Lough returns with his latest, and most ambitious short film yet. Ninety Seconds is Lough both embracing today’s technology, and warning us of our obsessions with it. Lough regular Michael Parle, who plays the mysterious Mr Philips, warns us “the more time people spend on the Internet, the more isolated they become” Chilling words, although it is not that far from the truth.
Parle plays Mr Philips, a mysterious man who works in an unnamed city in the not too distant future. Like most of this world’s population, Philips is paranoid and there is a woman he has long stopped trusting. He hires Mark (Norry) and his partner Ralfi (Bennerhassett), two of the best in their field of dodgy underground surveillance operations. See, in this cold and menacing future, nothing is sacred, and surveillance is happening all over the place. While the intelligence agencies have their own methods of watching us, underground groups known as ‘Techs’ have created their own sophisticated ways of spying on the public, and will do for a hefty price. In the meeting between Mr Philips and Mark, we learn of the significance of the ‘Ninety Seconds’ of the title: it is the amount of footage needed to help secure a case, or a person’s insecurities or paranoia. Hours and hours worth of footage can boil down to one simple moment, changing everything. Mr Philips hires Mark and Ralfi, and they go to work watching the gorgeous Elly (Regan) who is a burlesque dancer at night. Lough’s casting choice here is superb, with Emma Eliza Regan already known as a dancer for Cheryl Cole and for the MTV Awards. She has also appeared in a few short films and TV series’, and it is easy to see why Mark develops a bit of a fixation with her! However, with Mark beginning to crack, the pair begin to wonder if they too are being watched, and now it would seem that the spies themselves are also being watched?
Lough indicates a vicious circle where pretty much no one is safe from surveillance and nothing you do is sacred anymore. In the early moments of the film, Mark explains exactly what they can track in order to find out a person’s daily routine. Not only can they watch their every move, but they can also track their movements on the Internet, trace their key strokes on their computer keyboards and even see what they are purchasing. It is a scary thought, and while we all know that this goes on anyway, we choose to ignore it until it affects us. Lough brings this sense of paranoia right to the heart of his gorgeous film, and while you will be amazed at the visuals, music and stunning direction, you will never forget that Ninety Seconds is a chilling tale of paranoia and personal space being taken away. Ninety Seconds is showing us where we are today with technology, and where we are heading, and sadly it rings very true indeed, and very worrying.
Now, the film itself is terrific, and full of Lough’s trademark camera work, colouring, editing and pacing, only this time it feels like Lough has not only become confident in his work, he has mastered it. If ever the director was ready to move into feature length films, it is now. Ninety Seconds has a lot going on, maybe too much for a short film, and had this been extended into a feature length film, or even an hour long film, it would have been dazzling. There is so much good stuff squeezed into twenty seven minutes here that I had to keep rewinding just to take it all in. The opening credits set the tone with a truly haunting, gorgeous and very Vangelis sounding piece of futuristic music which really help take the viewer into Lough’s stunning world. The visuals show that the director is gone way beyond the stripped down basics of his previous work, and here he not only wants to take you on a journey, but wants to dazzle you with stunning visuals and a truly amazing soundtrack. For me, the music really elevated the film into top class science fiction realms, and the wonderful filming in an unknown future city mixed with the almost hypnotic music reminded me of Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner. The music was put together by Cian Furlong who has collaborated with Lough on both Deviant and The Boogeyman, and there is even time for a track by the great Moby as well!
The music helps the films ‘cyber-punk’ style perfectly, but all this would not have been so effective without the director’s incredible skill. Lough really comes into his own here when directing nightime shots: beautiful strong blues, reds and yellows are used for maximum effect. A scene where Mark is sat in his car with Ralfi is the perfect example of the director’s skills. The lighting in the car is a deep, glowing blue while the Church outside the car is lit up with a blinding yellow, and it looks magnificent. Moments like this made me think of how well Michael Mann shoots ‘night’, and Lough has that same incredible gift. Then there are the wonderful camera angles: at times invasive with bizarre angled close-ups, or watching from a distance like some sort of peeping tom, no two shots are the same. However, when panning back to take in a large scale view, the director cleverly makes you think about the scene in question. Away from the madness of the city, Lough regular Simon Fogarty makes a welcome appearance as he meets with Ralfi to discuss his own case. Sat in a car, he looks out into the open countryside, a far cry from the dark, menacing city. Then there is the city itself, and an aerial shot of it at night should have the viewer thinking “just what is going on in all those houses, who is watching, is anybody safe?”
The editing and camera work here is world class, and proves we have a director here with lashings of talent bursting to get out. Lough has crafted a superb tale of paranoia (“paranoia pays” says Mark) and chilling realism. The mystery unfolds in an almost hypnotic kind of way, and I simply did not want this to end. The eerie music gives the film a claustrophobic, science fiction style feel and mixed with the expert use of lighting the film really does feel otherworldly, futuristic and yet incredibly relevant to today’s world of ‘Big Brother’ watching. However, while you may feel this is a little too serious sounding, there is room for some light hearted, and very welcome gentle comedy: “I should have married the sister” says Fogarty’s Gibson while watching his cheating wife. There is also a gentle reminder of more simpler times as Ralfi and Mr Philips stand in an empty building: “this used to be a video shop” says Philips, a defeated almost sad look on his face.
With someone announcing how “information is power” we even get a harsh warning of how religion is slowly dying thanks to the ever developing world of science. Looking at a bright yellow church at night, Mark explains: “the church is redundant, there is no religion. Technology rules and there is no escape” Indeed there isn’t, and maybe that is Lough’s point all along, we are moving ahead so quickly in life with new gadgets being developed hourly, it is hard to keep up with the constant changes, and eventually we will become “isolated” Maybe we are so caught up in technology that we really are missing the simple things in life, but be careful not to think this to yourself out loud, someone could be watching and this might not be a thought process that is acceptable anymore, and you just might find yourself in a whole heap of trouble! They could be watching, they are always watching…