STIFF Short Film Reviews – A Certain Kind of Monster/Making an Impact/Wild Rice Without a Rat

The Seattle True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) runs from May 3rd to the 11th this year. With every festival, there are always scores of short films that premiere along with the full features. Here are a few from this year.

A Certain Kind of Monster is pretty straightforward. Ben (Joshua Cutmore) picks up Beth (Jen Yarrow) out of the rain and takes her to his house so she can have a place to crash for the night. They have good chemistry. While Cutmore has some trouble being convincing with the dialogue at times, he is able to get across the loneliness his character feels with his mannerisms and facial expressions. Yarrow is more at ease and playful, while still underscoring her character’s inner pain over what she is running from and her own loneliness, even though she also exudes self-sufficiency. Director Mike Moring is very good at setting the scenethe rain used over the car, the camera movement in Ben’s house as Ben and Beth talk. He creates a sense of how alone the characters are, and how they are searching for something.

The ending goes with a predictable outcome, and the title makes it clear where things are going. It makes for an intense scene when making the “monster” with the visual effects, which were very well done. The film holds nothing back in the scene, showcasing an intensity that many films would hide from. We’ve built nicely through the overall sense of place and character, so that when the “monster” happens, it actually means something to these two people. Even with a somewhat predictable end, it is earned and worth the time to get there. The tension is effective in that what will happen is never totally clear, and we wonder what will come for these two characters.

A Certain Kind of Monster premieres May 7th at 6PM at the Grand Illusion, playing with the feature Sader Ridge. (Final Grade: B+)

Making an Impact showcases a cute premise that goes on a little too long, but still has enough creativity to be interesting. The premise is that automobiles now have “Auto Car” installed, which stops them from running into people. The downside is that now the poor Crash Test Dummy is out of work.

We start with a commercial for the Auto Car and how it works. Making the switch from there to the Crash Test Dummy is a bit surprising, but gives an immediate sense of the humor we will be getting. The joke is fun for a while. We see the Crash Test Dummy as it goes about its life, trying to find work as other kinds of dummies and dealing with a loss of purpose. With such a singular subject, the film gets a bit stale, but ends with a decent enough idea for where the Crash Test Dummy’s search for purpose should lead him.

Director and star Andrew Lum has made a light and innocuous film. It is fine for a short and as a way to practice the craft. It has some fun little moments, but really doesn’t stay with you long after. But if you have fifteen minutes to spare, it is worth a look.

Making an Impact premieres May 3rd as a part of a showcase of short films at the Grand Illusion Cinema at 6PM. (Final Grade: B-)

Wild Rice Without a Rat is an odd film that tries for nothing else but oddness, which makes for very dull viewing. We move from person to person. One character will be on the phone, then we move to who they are talking to, and we move to someone passing that person and follow them, until they pass someone else. We never stay long enough with any one character to get any sense of why they matter. Each character does little more than say something random or do something that is blatantly bizarre. It’s all just different variations of strange behavior.

The only other connections are an occasional bowl of rice being near a character, a voiceover spouting something that really has no connection to anything, or a cut back to a white mouse running around. These events are not odd enough to be interesting or absurd enough to be funny, so they end up being just boring. In one scene, a character that is high talks on the phone, but then it intercuts with odd blurry camera shots of her dogwhich she never interacts with or says anything to, so it just leaves you confused.

This film was just painful to sit through. Director Maria Dolores Lopez has a vision, it seems, and as soon as she wants to let the rest of us know what it is, it will be welcomed. There is nothing wrong with using oddness to get across some meaning about how you see the world or to tell us something about a character, but if it is so out there that the meaning is lost, then so is the film.

Wild Rice Without a Rat premieres May 6th at 8PM at Wing-It Productions, with the documentary Beyond Naked. (Final Grade D-)

There are some of the shorts to check out at STIFF this year. The festival has a lot more in store, and you never know what new talent can be found. Here’s hoping it is a launching pad for some new interesting filmmakers.


Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

You can reach Benjamin via email or on twitter

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