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Bent: Volume One   B-

Mindscape Pictures

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Jason Santo
Writer: Jason Santo
Cast: Cassie Ross, Roman Berman, Jennifer Chaplain, Angelo Athanasoupolos, Gene Dante, Tom Howard, Sheri Carter.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Bent: Volume One is a collection of three short movies tied together as a feature under the pretense that the shorts are unified by the theme that "like running water, the path of life can be suddenly and unpredictably bent." Well, that can be applied to most movies. To quote from Robert McKee's Story (hey, I just saw Adaptation so allow me to indulge): "As a story begins, the protagonist is living a life that's more or less in balance... Then, perhaps suddenly but in any case decisively, an event occurs that radically upsets its balance." That life-bending event is the "inciting incident" and most movies have one. So the thematically unified claim isn't convincing, especially since the shorts each have a different thematic focus and aren't really about sudden life changes per se.

That said, the three shorts are pretty good on their own. This was my introduction to Boston-based filmmaker Jason Santo, who has made 27 short films with the indie production group Random Foo Pictures since 1997 and now has his own company called Mindscape Pictures. Watching the first short, "Marisa," I was struck by Santo's precise, evocative sense of purely visual storytelling. The story opens with the sound of three gunshots followed by black and white scenes of a girl (Cassie Ross) crying as she cleans the gun. Color flashbacks show the start of a potentially happy relationship with a young guy -- he gives her a red rose on a sunny day in the park -- but the young-love daydream soon turns into a nightmare. Strikingly well-selected visuals show us the story without ever resorting to dialogue or narration. Unfortunately, Santo drops the ball by literally spelling out a crucial plot point (hey, dude, we got it), which all but destroys the spell the film had so effectively cast.

In "Haunted," a group of thugs holding a woman captive are stalked by something in a spooky warehouse hideout. It's a run-of-the-mill horror story with a few well-executed suspense sequences and jump-out-of-your-seat scares. Sure, some of the performances are weak and it won't win any awards for originality, but it's fun. The final short, "His Life," focuses on a guy named Martin (Roman Berman) who has just spent seven responsibility-free years exploring the world due to his belief that he's going to die on his 25th birthday. He returns to his hometown on that day and faces the people he selfishly left behind. "His Life" is an interesting and touching piece about the realization that a life lived with broken ties to loved ones and without responsibility isn't a life lived at all.

Shot on digital video for next to nothing, the shorts are highly polished, skillfully edited, and effectively scored. Likewise, the DVD is a slick package with beautifully animated menus and quality special features that include trailers for future Mindscape Pictures releases, interviews with Jason Santo for each short, and the ability to watch each movie separately or all together as a feature. I'd choose the former, since I don't think the shorts fit together well as a feature, claims of thematic unity be damned. That and the fact that the water imagery and boring narration that ties the shorts together reminded me a bit too much of those nature documentaries shown in elementary school. So while Bent: Volume One might not gel as a feature, it's the work of a talented, passionate filmmaker that has me eager to see Bent: Volume Two.

Review published 02.25.2003.

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