Special (2020) short film review

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As a number of mysterious deaths engulf a small neighbourhood we are introduced to the locals who live there. The more we learn about each person the more we discover the dark mysteries that lie within them in Joshua Park’s supernatural thriller Special.

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Joshua Park is another regularly featured filmmaker at Screen Critix, and it is always fun to check out his new work and what avenues he has decided to take us down next. We recently reviewed the enjoyable ‘A Broken Arrow’ in which he took somewhat of a back seat to his very talented 14-year-old protégé Sasha Nelson, who I am guessing is also his daughter. Previous to that we had Meow Mixer, which was a romantic comedy about lesbian speed dating, and before that the feature film Psycho Therapy was a horror-comedy telling the story of a psychiatrist who was even more disturbed than her patients.

With Special running at 35 minutes long, Nelson is back on short film territory here but this time, along with his regular cast of collaborators who have all appeared in his previous movies, he changes tack to give us something much more serious; finding himself in the realm of psychological horror. Telling the story of grisly deaths and supernatural powers, Special has more in common with Psycho Therapy than any of Nelson’s other films but the major difference is that there is nothing to laugh at in this chilling piece of drama. Nelson and his cast are deadly serious.

Opening with what is a violently graphic death, we are immediately thrown off guard as there is no explanation as to what has happened; the victim writhes in pain, leaking blood from his mouth, as his blonde girlfriend looks on screaming uncontrollably. This initial scene takes place over the opening credits with a quietly ominous score, and the rest of Special manages to capture this uneasiness very well. Nowhere is this showcased more than in the number of interlocking stories about the people in the neighbourhood who love to keep secrets. Everyone we meet seems either trapped, suspicious, or mysterious.

Take stand out Tom Scorzone’s Paulie; he is in love with his Hispanic girlfriend but kills for a gangster so refuses to tell her anything about the job he does. Meanwhile, she doesn’t tell Paulie about her father Gustavo who is having so much money trouble he keeps borrowing and stealing thousands from her. On the other side of town, there is a family with an adopted daughter who they hate and constantly attack. While down the road from them lives an abused wife who has taken all she can from her abusive partner and can’t take any more. Then we go back to Paulie who for some reason takes his daughter on jobs with him and keeps her imprisoned in their home.

The answers to all of these questions aren’t given to us straight away, but we get the feeling that they will all connect somehow and, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, reveal themselves to us. It’s a credit to Nelson’s writing that the film works so well. Despite the acting becoming patchy in parts, the script ticks along nicely, keeping the audience intrigued until the very end. Michael Zyac’s cinematography, along with Nelson’s blocking, is very simple and basic, consisting mainly of two shots, wides, and close-ups, but there are a few transitioning drone shots that help liven up the images. The editing by James Adam Tucker is crisp, allowing us to easily keep track of the characters and the story’s twists and turns. Some shots are a lit a little too dark but they are easily forgotten while the score is satisfyingly creepy.

Out of all of Nelson’s films that I have reviewed, Special is easily his best one yet. The concept is genuinely excellent and his writing is great as he manages to tell a good story while also showing an ability to tie up all of the loose ends very neatly. As the film title suggests, Special is indeed a little bit special and comes highly recommended.

4.5 / 5 stars     

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