Sunday, December 06, 2009

Wannabe – review


Director: James Mannan

Release Date: 2008

Contains spoilers

For a while I did not know what to do with this film, when it came to featuring it on the blog. Do I review it – after all it is commercially available – or simply give it an honourable mention, as it is a short that comes in at 19 minutes?

In the end I plumped for a review, I felt the film deserved that. The film is called Wannabe and is about Viola (Steffani Pieart) who is (at least on one level) the wannabe of the title. We see her online and then see a creepy old house.

the houseOne thing I noticed as I watched it was how grainy the film was and it seemed that this was purposeful – some scenes in the outtakes seem more brightly lit and also have less of a grain. All in all this gives the film an older pre-digital feel, which works to its advantage on some levels though also betrays the independent budget. Getting back to the actual story and Viola knocks at the door and is allowed entry by a man named Andrew (Robert Webster).

Robert Webster as AndrewHe makes reference to his mistress, Nyx (Brianna Michaels), and wants to know where Viola is parked and has her hand over her car keys, her purse and searches her. He tries to ensure that she has told no-one she is there and instructs her that she is to call his mistress M’am. He confides that perhaps Nyx has kept up to date with the modern world better than he – Viola met her online. For her part she queries Nyx’s age. She was born in 1823 – at least that is what she has told Viola.

Nyx has a maskViola is directed to go downstairs and wait for her. She stands in candlelight, in a basement and eventually we hear clicking of an umbrella on the stone floor and see Nyx, she wears a veil but clearly there is a mask beneath – clear to us at least. Viola has been searching for a vampire, she has met plenty of wannabe vampires but seeks immortality. It is not just to preserve her looks and youth but also the power that attracts her. For her part Nyx keeps asking about friends and family, ensuring that no one knows she is there. It is indicated that this is for security and their safety (any friends who came looking for her would be in danger) but we feel that Viola is perhaps making a big mistake. When she is satisfied that no one will come looking for the girl, Nyx has Viola strip.

Steffani Pieart as ViolaAs I indicated, when we watch we start to wonder at the credulity of Viola, especially as Nyx repeats the questions about friends and family and this is the joy at the heart of the short. Mannan keeps a level of discomfort running for the viewer. It is within Viola’s predicament (and Pieart’s earnest performance), it is within the graininess of the film, it is within the well selected soundtrack. This makes the film a great little watch because the viewer feels uncomfortable, feels that Viola has made a very silly mistake and yet is compelled to watch.

the principles all fit the roles wellThere is not a lot of lore; we hear that Nyx – when she sleeps – sleeps in a grave. The loss of sunlight is named as the cost of immortality and there is an assumption on Viola’s part that vampires cannot turn into bats. There are twists and whilst the main one might not be totally original it was well handled. Again Mannan does well, in that the viewer discomfort levels are maintained even after the main twist is revealed. I mentioned Pieart’s performance and the principles all fit the roles well, Robert Webster's almost staccato, stagy delivery actually offers his character a presence that is all kinds of creepy.

The trouble, of course, is that this is a short and thus is difficult – I feel – to score. At 19 minutes the film does not overstay its welcome and we more readily accept the shorthand used, which we would lament in a longer film. In many respects it is the same with short stories. The situation at once feels ridiculous; why would Viola go there, we ask, but this might be because we have short-circuited character development and so we have to accept she is what she is. The performance helps in this respect and all this actually builds into the discomfort we feel. Thus the score I give it is caveated with the fact that this is a short film but it gets 6 out of 10 because it makes the viewer uncomfortable – which is what it sets out to do – and I tried to consider what I would have scored if this were a section of a larger portmanteau film.

The imdb page is here and the Wannabe homepage is here.

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