Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Death in Charge (2008)

In this 15 minute short film from Devi Snively, Death (Marina Benedict) comes calling on a preoccupied mother (Gillian Shure) and her precocious 9-year-old daughter, Whitney (Kylie Chalfa). Mistaking Death for the babysitter, the mother quickly dashes out the door for a night on the town and leaves Death to look after Whitney. The child thinks nothing of Death’s cloak (especially after Death takes of her hood to reveal her pretty face), only calling her “goth.” In the process of the evening, the little girl teaches Death about playing video games, making mac ‘n’ cheese and growing sea monkeys. While Death learns about life, Whitney in turn learns a little about death…but at the end of the evening Death must still perform her grim duty.

Death in Charge is a remarkable short that really shows writer/director Devi Snively’s immense talent and potential. Snively wrote the screenplay in reaction to the Columbine High School shootings to try to find out what motivates kids to kill. The film is produced through The American Film Institute (AFI). Snively was just one of eight chosen to participate in AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women. Seeing Death in Charge makes it easy to see why she was selected!

Snively immediately immerses you in the story, creating a tone that is both comedic and dark. She employs this dark humor throughout the short, but also takes the time to develop the characters, more so than most feature-length films do. As each character is introduced, we get a real sense of who they are and what they stand for. The mother is self-involved, uncaring and doesn’t pay much attention to anyone but herself. Death, of course, is a bit morbid, but also reveals her softer, more innocent side as she wonders at the human world around her. Whitney is a bright, cheeky child that loves violent video games and has a skewed, flippant view towards death. Each character is also written in such a way that all of their interactions with each other feel natural. In the short running time Snively manages to establish a real connection between all the characters as well as having them connect to the audience.

Of course, without such amazing actors the characters would not have been able to establish such strong connections. All of the actors are phenomenal in Death in Charge! Gillian Shure is great in her role as the bitchy mother. Even though she doesn’t get much screen time, she lets us know exactly who her character is in that short time. Kylie Chalfa is not only adorable as 9-year-old Whitney, but also brings a wide range of emotions to her role and makes these believable! The real star is Marina Benedict as Death. She shines as her character wondrously discovers everyday things like mac ‘n’ cheese. Her wide saucer eyes just make her discoveries all that much more sweet and really re-emphasize the innocence and naiveness she brings to Death. Her connection to Whitney is also very touching and cute.

As for the direction, Snively again succeeds. She keeps things interesting with different camera angles and a quickly paced story. She also creates intimacy between Whitney and Death by using close-ups of the two, giving them and the audience more of a feeling of connection. The colors used in the film are bright and eye-catching. The production values are high, and except for a few instances of iffy special FX (just a quick scene with some fire in a wastebasket), everything is amazing.

Death in Charge is a complex, delightful tale that packs a wallop in its short running time. I took a lot away from it, including that everyone can learn a little something about both life AND death. This entertaining and touching film really makes me look forward to what Devi Snively does next!

Visit Death in Charge’s Official Site!

Vist Devi Snively’s Official Site!

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