Thursday, 12 February 2015


Some short films cause such an instant wave of positive responses that they are almost immediately acquired for feature length adaptation. Whether it be the premise or the execution, something about the film screams ‘SUCCESS!’ and studios are never slow to act.
Rob Grant’s What Doesn’t Kill You is one such short. As soon as it appeared on my radar after its extremely well-received screening at TIFF last year, it was already gearing up for the full-length treatment.
I recently spoke with producer Luke Black who was kind enough to extend me the offer of a screener of the short. Would I see the same potential as everybody else? Or would this one crash and burn?


Dir: Rob Grant
Starring: Connor Jessup, Alex Harrouch, Aidan Greene

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: This is a short so I’ll try not to spoil too much, but read on at your own risk.

On the night of a winter prom, friends Marshall (Jessup), Leonard (Harrouch) and Dermot (Greene) are pursued by the bullies who have made their lives a misery for so long.
As they speed along the icy roads, the boys are involved in a horrific car accident, spinning off the road and into a snowy ravine. Marshall finds himself stood beside the vehicle, completely unharmed — yet he doesn’t seem surprised by this. Suddenly Leonard’s screams ring out as the front of the car in which he is trapped is consumed by flames… until he too suddenly finds himself in the snow outside the car, also completely unharmed.
Together the boys pull Dermot from the backseat, but are shocked to see that he has suffered a catastrophic spinal injury and appears to be paralysed.
Then Marshall has an idea as to how to help Dermot… and it’s messy.
Will Leonard go along with the plan? How did they survive unscathed? And how far is Marshall really prepared to go? 

WHY IT WORKS: Well, where to start? I suppose it would be the fantastic and compelling premise, the hook of Grant and co-writer Stuart Marks' story. What Doesn’t Kill You instantly grabs your attention through the breakneck (or perhaps that should be breakback) chase scene, followed by the intriguing mystery of what is happening and building to an electric edge-of-the-seat crescendo when our leads' central dilemma comes to the fore.
Taking the hot topic of high school bullying as a leaping on point, then building into something more fantastical is an astute step. Not only are we all now aware of the sickening depths to which today's vilest bullies will sink (Marshall himself speaks of an incident in which his tormentors stubbed out a lit cigarette on his face), we are also aware of the dreadful and terrifying reactions this can bring out in psychologically damaged and dangerous individuals. It's a story that brings real world fears with its subject matter.
At its heart, this is a story about power. These three boys have never had it, instead they have been victimised by those that do. But right now, in this instant, they suddenly believe that they are on the receiving end of an immeasurable force far beyond their comprehension. It is frightening and, to Marshall (the most tortured of the group) overwhelmingly liberating.
Jessup in the role of Marshall is awesome. He is likeable and sympathetic, yet he has an air of dark oddness about him. He's a character who has been pushed and beaten down to the point of no return (as we are shown in a chilling flashback sequence) but now his desperation has turned into a delirious euphoria. The bullying has broken him, but now he is pulling himself back together (well, something is) in a new, more dangerous form. He is loyal to his friends, idealistic and, through the degradation he has suffered, he is dangerously reckless with the sanctity of human life. Jessup gets this and runs with it to perfection.
He‘s a good-looking young man with damn fine acting chops — he’s going to go a long way.
Co-star Greene is equally brilliant in his role as Dermot. Dermot is the member of the group who seemingly has his life most-together — he had a date for the evening (a girl he clearly has strong feelings for) and even states that the only reason the bullies have targeted him is because of his friendship with the other two. This sums up his character, even before the accident and Marshall’s plan, he was always the one with the most to lose. Greene‘s character really is put through the wringer and this promising young actor is able to portray Dermot’s mounting desperation brilliantly. This is another sterling performance.
The final member of the central trio, Harrouch’s Leonard is a complex character. Arguably the weakest of the group, it is revealed early on that he had already attempted to end his own life to escape his tormentors long before the events of the film. Following the accident his indecision is palpable and the other boys attempting to convince him to side with them makes for the film’s most compelling moments. Harrouch emotes the character’s dilemma perfectly, never overplaying it and both drawing the audience onside with him and ratcheting up the tension as he does so. His performance is possibly the easiest to overlook initially but it is absolutely vital to the success of the short. That’s a hat-trick of hits from our leads, congratulations gentlemen!
I just mentioned tension, and that is something that the film delivers in spades. Grant’s direction is masterful, slowly cranking up the suspense until it becomes unbearable, his use of quick cuts and close framing adding to the effect of the wonderful storyline. The pacing is excellent, whipping by at a brisk pace without ever feeling underdeveloped or rushed, and the short is beautifully shot, feeling significantly more expensive than its modest budget would suggest. Imagining what this story will do when expanded and with a higher level of financing is really very exciting. What Doesn’t Kill You is a short film that works on its own, giving a satisfying conclusion,yet it still begs for expansion. I want to see more of what came before and I NEED to see the events that follow the film’s final moments. The possibilities are endless and, thankfully, we seem all set to see them realised.

SO WHERE’S IT AT? The short is still doing very well indeed on the festival circuit, so make sure you give it a look if you can. Check out the short film’s Facebook page for more news on where and when you can see it, plus all the exciting updates on the upcoming feature. You know the drill by now, Like it while you’re there. These guys definitely warrant it.

10 WORD WRAP UP: A great cast and fascinating premise make this a winner

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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