“Death in Charge” A short film by Devi Snively
Starring Marina Benedict + Kylie Shalfa + Gillian Shure
Music by David Ricard Visual Effects by Ian Strangberg
Written + Directed by Devi Snively
The subject of death has never been as attractive as it is in Devi Snively’s Death in Charge, a 15-minute flick made possible by AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women. Gorgeous cinematography (by Adam Honzl), gorgeous sets (designed by Theresa Avram), pristine writing and direction by directrix Miss Snively and a gorgeous Grim Reaper (played with harrowing warmth and innocent wonder by Marina Benedict) make this film a treasure commensurate to the flash of two lightning bolts striking each other. Which is, sort of, how you could describe the chemistry between Death (posing as babysitter Debbie to gain entry to the film’s odd abode) and the feisty indigo child, Whitney (a precocious and adorable Kylie Chalfa), she is entrusted to take care of.
Benedict’s Death arrives at the home of a negligent physique-obsessed single mom (the equally beautiful and talented Gillian Shure) who is obviously going out for a night on the town. Her daughter, Whitney, is too busy playing a gory shoot-em-up video game to be bothered with the knock at the door. So Sandy makes haste to answer it, nearly burning the bathroom down in the process due to her carelessness (a trait that will prove to be her downfall). There, standing before her, with scythe in hand, is Death, a growling figure in a dark cloak.
In a bit of amusing self-obsession, a very unaware Sandy takes the scythe from Death’s hands and asks the dreaded one to zip up the back of her evening gown. Death seems as dumb struck as us. Perhaps because she didn’t realize that a modern woman could suit up in a shade other than charcoal.
“Are you Goth?” Whitney asks her new companion, further loaning to the post-modern macabre flavor at work in Snively’s film.
Death in Charge is a film that examines life and what it is worth. In this way it is more than just a horror movie, or the quirky black comedy some of its early scenes would suggest, it's a mor(t)ality tale. You'll see when you see it (So see it already!). Without giving too many spoilers away, Death has come to Whitney's house for a reason, even if playing video games and eating TV dinner trip her up. And when Death is, indeed, in charge there's one thing and one thing only in your future. But aside from a bit of bloodletting, there's a lot of tenderness and teaching involved in Devi Snively's flick.
The way Whitney and Death trade off with innocence and iniquity is charming, to say the least. And it is the dexterity of Avram’s production design--dreamy soft blues and greens and carefully-placed shadows--combined with Honzl’s equally impeccable selection of wide shots and intimate close-ups that give Death in Charge its fantasy aesthetic and underscore the surreality of The Reaper fearing death and finding love in the form of a spirited-if-disturbed adolescent.
Short films are often regarded with a dismissive attitude by mainstream movie fans, as if somehow they lack the legitimacy of a feature film, despite prestigious film festivals premiering a selection of them every year. But people tend to forget that several short films have been the launching pad for terrific feature films, from Jared Hess’s Napolean Dynamite short and John Carpenter’s Dark Star to David Lynch’s The Alphabet and Glenn McQuaid’s The Resurrection Apprentice (which was expanded into 2008’s I Sell The Dead).
Thanks to career longevity and the patrons’ demand for artists like David Lynch and Hal Hartley (both of whom have self-distributed DVD collections of their short form work on their own indie labels) the attitude toward shorts is slowly evolving. And rightly so. Because some of them are really good. And then, ever so often, there are one or two that are absolutely great. Death in Charge is one of them.
There are moments, in this short film, where you recall the fact that it’s a short mournfully, dreading the instant when it will inevitably end. This is a testament to the skill with which Devi Snively weaves a yarn, making the most of mere minutes and successfully fleshing out her empathetic characters and outrageous situations in the time it takes most people to conclude their flashy opening credits sequences.
If the short film format is meant to be a glorified fancy ass reel to show off what a director is capable of, so as to get work in the major league of feature filmmaking, then Devi Snively’s Death in Chargeexhibit’s all the signs of a three picture deal up ahead.
Seek this movie and Snively’s other work out now.