4 Powerful Short Dramas To Enjoy If You’ve Completed Netflix
Celebrating short films and their creators
( Ye be warned…Spoilers lie ahead )
like me, you’ve spent a large part of The Lockdown trilogy on furlough, then you’ll have spent a colossal number of hours absorbing the full scope of what streaming services such as Netflix have to offer.
By now, you may be suffering from fatigue or symptoms of thrombosis and may fancy watching something different. Short films are an excellent place to start.
Well, go for a walk first, then start.
Shorts are a traditional rite of passage for aspiring filmmakers, providing them with opportunities for collaboration and to hone their craft and progress their careers to the next level.
The majority of shorts remain works in progress. This is fine, because if every film were a masterpiece, then no one would ever learn anything. Mistakes happen and we learn from them. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I reflect on my cringe-inducing student filmography.
Even so, many short films excel despite their budgetary restrictions or the limited experience of their creators. It’s in this spirit I present the following selection of short films, in this case, all dramas. Each has resonated with me for one reason or another, and I hope they will for you too.
Dinner With Mum
A mum repeatedly attempts to have dinner with her daughter, but time quickly runs away from them both.
Dinner With Mum, directed by Daniel Harding, is a moving portrayal of an elderly woman suffering from dementia. The narrative manipulates the chronology of time to align with its protagonist’s declining mental state.
Unravelling through Ellen’s perspective reinforces the narrative’s authentic depiction of how stressful and debilitating it is for someone to forfeit ownership of their mind.
Through combining a striking performance by Meryl Griffiths (Mum/Ellen), a haunting original score, deliberate continuity errors, jump-cutting, visual symbolism, and hair and makeup design, the narrative charts the evolution of Ellen’s mental and physical trauma amidst her desperate attempts to complete a simple, routine act - to cook dinner for her family.
While a little rough around the edges with some of its sound design and cinematography, the filmmakers’ forensic attention to detail, coupled with Griffith’s performance, enables us to see past this and enjoy repeat viewings.
[ Available to view on YouTube ]
Hope Dies Last
An Auschwitz prisoner gives a Nazi commander a haircut.
Directed by Ben Price (of Coronation Street), Hope Dies Last offers a glimpse into the real-life story of Józef Paczyński, a Polish political prisoner who served as the personal barber to Rudolf Höss, the Camp Commander of Auschwitz and a senior-ranking Nazi credited with engineering the so-called Final Solution.
Its lucid, minimalistic visual and narrative style unnervingly convey the tensions between these two sworn enemies. Each shot lends weight to the climactic twist of the end credits that exposes the true identities of both characters. In hindsight, this context raises the stakes surrounding their implied power dynamic immeasurably A failure to fulfil even this basic task could result in severe punishment and even death for Józef.
Hoss also shares his subordinate’s vulnerability. At any moment, Jósef could slit his throat and change the course of the War, an inner conflict poignantly explored by Tarek Slater (Jósef).
It’s worth noting that the narrative delivers the most emotional impact on the first viewing. Familiarity with its ending revelation leads its initial shock value and tension to somewhat wear thin thereafter, both empowering what is ultimately a simple plot. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive addition to the portfolio of an established filmmaker.
[ Available to view on YouTube ]
I appreciate that dementia and the Holocaust are more than enough to sour anyone’s mood. So, this next short is a different albeit gripping dramatic thriller.
The Call Centre
A woman at a call centre makes a connection with a customer. But she goes too far.
The directorial debut of Louisa Connolly-Burnham, The Call Centre is a well-written and devilishly sexy drama exploring the age-old archetype of the underdog. It does so through its main protagonist, Paige (Burnham), an introverted phone operator who works in a call centre providing life insurance.
Character studies focusing on individuals who initially seem moral and ordinary but are in reality flawed and embittered by society never cease to entertain. Whether Travis Bickle, Walter White, The Narrator of Fight Club, and now Paige, each character defies audience expectations whilst they pursue their darkest, forbidden impulses and desires.
The narrative opens with a typical, mundane day for Paige. That is until she forms an unusual attraction with a caller named David (Alun Raglan). She proceeds to track him to his London home, set to begin a romantic affair.
After discovering that David has a family, however, Paige tries to leave. Confronted with a near-sexual assault in response, Paige stabs David and leaves him for dead.
The narrative could also read as a religious allegory for how everyday people are tempted to sin. The name of the company where Paige works is ‘Deus Insurance’, ‘Deus’ being the Latin word for ‘god’. The call centre’s foremost business concerns the financial legacy of the dead, acting as a form of purgatory for peoples’ journey between Earth and the afterlife.
( I’m sure anyone who’s worked in this field would agree ).
Paige’s sweet, unassuming nature presents her as an angelic figure and, by contrast, David as Satan. David’s wife, Helen (Tara Fitzgerald), who calls Paige to claim her late husband’s life insurance is another contender for this role. Assuming the theory that she conspired with Paige to arrange David’s death to divide his life insurance is true, evoking classic film noir such as Double Indemnity. Or maybe Paige is the Devil, being inherently evil all along…
Or maybe the filmmakers just enjoyed the word ‘Deus’ and I’m reading too far into this like a GCSE English teacher. Either way, Paige’s character arc undergoes a notable transition across the narrative from a harmless ‘girl-next-door’ to an audacious femme fatale. Her suggestive gesture to her colleague further illustrates her transformation during the narrative’s resolution.
[ Available to view on YouTube ]
A desperate man takes matters into his own hands.
Edge is a suspenseful single-shot drama that achieves instant appeal through its ability to challenge audience perception similarly to Dinner With Mum, here using space instead of time.
Filmmaking duo Billy Rees and Doug Kirby exploit the full potential of cinematography to escalate the tension, deploying carefully choreographed voyeuristic tracking shots and asymmetrical framing to expose hints of the unfolding situation whilst preserving our anticipation.
As an apprehensive dialogue ensues between our troubled protagonist, Michael (Ellis J. Wells) and an off-screen voice (Tina Barnes), a distant city backdrop becomes more visible behind Michael and reveals that he is standing on the edge of a building, threatening suicide. The camera further shows Michael holding a young girl captive and police surrounding him.
The narrative then delivers its first unexpected twist that the kidnapped girl is not Michael’s daughter, Charlotte, who died, a tragedy that prompted his current breakdown. This reveal frames Michael in a conflicted light. He is a tragic yet dangerous figure on account of his unstable, fatalistic demeanour.
The climax sees Michael jump off the edge. An uncomfortable crescendo follows as the fate of the girl, Lily (Grace Slattery), remains uncertain. We then discover that Michael spared her from sharing the same fate as his daughter, and she rejoins her family.
In a brief runtime, the viewer experiences an intense albeit heartfelt tale of how loss and grief can crush even the most honest and respectable individuals and propel them towards undertaking such drastic action.
[ Available to view on Amazon Prime ]
And there you have it. Now, I must go and absorb some much-needed Vitamin D before I cocoon myself in front of the TV. Again.