No Hard Shells Crack? [Rich Mcafee, UK, 2020]
In the world of short film it seems as though the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on a contagious thematic stronghold all of its own, as a whole glut of recent films have begun to surface with the coronavirus crisis at their narrative core. Although quarantine movies aren’t exactly new (see Cabin Fever [Eli Roth, USA, 2002]; Rec [Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza, Spain, 2007]; It Comes at Night [Trey Edward Schults, USA, 2017]), in this current political and artistic climate, one could easily ascribe this topical “wave” of films to its own filmic genre.
Written by and starring Rich Mcafee, No Hard Shells Crack? is just one of many contemporary shorts that have taken inspiration from the pandemic, sticking very much to an unwittingly imposed manifesto, established by the government rather than an artistic troupe (as seen with the Dogme 95 movement), with ‘stay at home’ rules grounding them in minimalist atmospherics and chamber-piece scenarios.
The film’s poster nods to gritty 1970s slasher horrors and, from this alone, offers promise of a cine-literate inclusion into the canon of 2020 lockdown shorts. Shot cheaply and innovatively, with heightened dramatic sounds and fast-paced editing, the film manages to successfully conjure up a sense of the protagonist’s (cast as “The Mute”) newfound paranoia.
Whilst reading a government letter that details information about the virus, his housemate and possibly partner (known only as “The Business Lady”) returns home from a trip, dragging in her suitcase and walking straight past a bottle of hand sanitiser. She offers him a cup of tea, as close-up shots frame her hands and other objects of the household, now potentially tainted by invisible viral bodies. The cold blue lighting cleverly devises a clinical feeling environment whilst conveniently conveying the main character’s upwardly creeping mid-night fears.
The conspicuous suitcase visibly rumbles and rattles away in the middle of the living room, a sort of standoff between them unfolding, as we wonder which of these “hard shells” will crack first. In a tongue-in-cheek reference to Kiss Me Deadly [Robert Aldrich, USA, 1955] and Pulp Fiction [Quentin Tarantino, USA, 1994], his curiosity gets the better of him as he tackles the suitcase to the ground and opens it to reveal its mysterious and, perhaps, deadly contents.
No Hard Shells Crack? is a taut comedy-horror, which understands the economy of shots, lighting and dialogue. Although not wildly original, its wry knowingness suggests that this was never the primary intention, and the short film could work equally as well as an experimental comedy sketch within a larger ensemble of surreal routines.
‘No Hard Shells Crack?’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.