SHORT FILM REVIEW
AKA Hell To Pay
Black & White / 60 minutes
Shooting an independent feature on the streets of Los Angeles is likely to be an easy option for directors without experience or financial backing. Visually of course it lends itself by association to the sort of crime thrillers that work on low budgets. Film maker Jay Jennings clearly wants to imitate a lot of other genre movies, and his influences are worn clearly. However the film noir category he seems interested in isn’t really represented here beyond some basic expository narration. We get dialogue that apes the likes of Taxi Driver and Pulp Fiction but it frequently misses the target by some distance. This looks and feels more like Clerks but without the wit, which probably isn’t a great result for a gritty tale of loan sharks and other shady underworld characters.
Teddy Greene (Charles Santore) is one of these morally empty figures, a debt collector for local crime boss Tony Stone (Rob Young). He’s not viewed favourably by his employer and it’s hinted that he’s in this business because of his father (Pauli Macy) rather than because of his skills. Teddy is on thin ice because of his methods which are often excessive when making demands for payment. He doesn’t seem clever enough to do business discreetly, and in most cases openly threatens and attacks his debtors in broad daylight in very busy public places.
The major problem here is that much of the running time consists of these same scenes as Teddy approaches gambling addicts, prostitutes, stand up comics and priests with the same aggressive manner. They all react in such a similar fashion that it often feels like a series of screen tests for the same scenario. Teddy threatens them, they deny having any money, and then more often than not he finds out they are lying and threatens them some more. It’s not particularly compelling and makes it feel a lot longer than the brief one hour running time.
While there are some basic attempts at characterisation these scenes are just as short and the editing is all very choppy. Teddy’s father pesters him for money or help with schemes that involve gambling in Las Vegas or buying stock to make a big profit, and his ex-wife shows up a few times to demand child support money. He visits an old mentor in the park who thinks Teddy should get out of town and quit this line of work, and there’s a scene where he meets a musician in the street and shows a rare moment of generosity. But there’s a disconnected feeling to most of the narrative as it moves from one incident to the next without any breathing room.
The technical side of things elsewhere doesn’t help the pacing. There’s a lot of jarring stock music that doesn’t ever fit the scenes it’s being put into. The random mixture of classical concertos, melancholy piano tunes and modern electronic beats is devoid of congruity. Visually things are also pretty messy with some strange editing effects and scene transitions being employed on top of the black and white photography. It looks like it was shot on video but is often overlaid with artificial film grain effects for some reason. The only clean visuals come in a sudden epilogue that looks like it was done with a different camera. When there isn’t any music the volume of the dialogue clashes with the live background audio with things from city traffic to public water fountains being overheard.
Eventually this all comes to a head when Teddy’s boss has had enough of his violent tactics, and of course the story doesn’t end well. But it’s hard to feel any sympathy when it’s so lacking in creative vision or genuine drama. Scenes in which Teddy meets his sister or is the victim of a robbery himself just feel random rather than actual character arc moments. Maybe if it was all taken back to the cutting room it would feel less like a random series of skits but it needs some serious work all round.