|Plot Outline: Sam (Gavin Heffernan) is your average young man, searching himself for what exactly it is he wants to do with life. When one day, his close friend Niki (Erin Simkin) lets him know that she is pregnant, with his child no less. Now Sam is struggling with what to do with his life, the only option seems to be to marry Niki which he plans to do with his mother’s ring. Rachel (Janet Lane) is a young woman, seemingly in a similar position as Sam, trying to figure out where she too is heading in life. At the moment she makes a living off selling drugs for a man who seems to have some form of control over her life. She is given a bag of dope that she’s supposed to deliver to a strange fellow at around 4:30am somewhere in Montreal. Around this time, Sam invites Niki to visit the city with him, with plans to propose. Things go awry when Niki gets sick, forcing Sam to find the closest convenience store and grab something for her stomach. Yet, things get sticky when a gun toting psycho enters the store and takes everyone’s money, as well as Rachel’s purse full of drugs and Sam’s ring. Now the two set off on a chase to find their criminal and get back their stuff. In the mean time though, the two begin to learn more about themselves.|
The Review: So here I am, about a week ago, maybe two, when I get an e-mail from Sunchaser Pictures asking me if I would like a copy of their film Expiration for me to review. I was a bit hesitant at first. Being handed films for free isn’t exactly something I’m used to. This was pretty much the first substantial offer I was given, and I almost didn’t take it. For one thing, what if the film shows up and sucks the wind out of my lungs. What if it’s just god awful, would I then feel a obligation to give the film an overly positive review? Should I even take my own opinion so seriously? Just things that were running through my mind. What sold me on the deal though was a quick look at the trailer, and Todd’s very interesting review over at The Monkeyhouse Lounge (no longer in service, but was a very cool site). He didn’t come out forthright and make the point that the film is something to make your heart melt, but he set aside some of my fears about ‘independent cinema’. Generally, a lot of Indie films made on zero-budget tend to either be overblown superficial pretentious garbage without anything remotely entertaining or engaging, or if not, they tend to be so unbearably bad in every other way that you pray during the course of the film that you would have been lucky enough to have ended up with the pretentious garbage. This is probably coming from someone who hasn’t had his eyes opened to some of the more dynamic work in the Indie world as of recently, but I think I know enough to have a credible opinion. Well, I’m here to tell you that Expiration is like neither generalizations of mine. It’s something unique and despite the minuscule budget, still manages to come off as something highly mature for a filmmaker so young. The film tackles broad issues and big themes, but doesn’t let it’s foot sink too far into the quicksand of pretension. The film’s biggest goal, as all films should be, is to deliver a story. A fantastic story it is too, tackling subjects that are far above my head. About life, death, leaving, responsibility and everything else young people have to go through, but the story is tangible for all who watch it. I can assume that Gavin Heffernan is highly inspired by European cinema, and it shows in the relaxed delivery of the film. It’s tense, but not in your face about it. Thankfully, Heffernan keeps his characters relateable, something I’ve had trouble with while watching older European fair. Particularly the works of Fellini, which imdb has listed as a key influence on the creation of the film. The characters are likable, and thanks to the actors, engaging. The film really does suck you into it, after I finished watching it for my first time I was almost dazed. As if from returning to another world different than my own. The film catches you up in the moment, and I can think of no higher comment to lay upon a film. Heffernan is obviously going to grow as a talent, it’s hard to believe the film is a product of a 23 year old. I’m 18 here, why am I not making a movie! The film is highly mature for such a young cast and crew. Quentin Tarantino once said that when he was young he was inspired to make his first film by the age of 26, because he had spoken to a group of directors while preparing to write a book (which he never did, and I’m not sure if he ever planned to) and they all told him that they had made their first films by the age of thirty. Tarantino then started making his own film for three years and by the time it was finished, he hated it. He thought it was amateurish and all around bad, but here is a 23 year old who I assume has made a few short films in the past, making a feature film for such a small budget and hitting it out of the park. Heffernan and his rag tag crew of unpaid companions are truly inspiring for anyone who loves cinema.
The film, after watching, hit me hard. Like reading a good book, the film offers closure and solace. It ends much like it began, and gives the audience time to absorb everything. It’s a simple story about growing up, but expanded upon. The film grows as you watch it, and it’s something to behold. The series of characters who walk into the film rarely overload the viewer, but there are moments that may cause confusion. It seems an odd coincidence that I would be reviewing Expiration the same week as I am reviewing ‘Kids Return’ by Takeshi Kitano, both films actually do have a few things in common. Mostly the direction of delivering life lessons and being as honest with the audience as the filmmakers can. I would never go about comparing the two mind you, but both carry a lot of the same themes. Where as Kitano used an abundance of secondary characters to flesh out a fuller picture within his film, Heffernan just seamlessly writes his characters into the film and handles them extraordinarily well. Giving most characters motivation and a fully rounded personality. The film feels earnest, and it’s reflected in the writing. There’s no big hurry within the film it doesn’t feel like, everything takes it’s time to get where it needs to go, and this was one of the real positives within the film I thought. It delivered an ambiance all it’s own, just taking it’s time to deliver you from situation A to situation B. The stories within the film are blended effortlessly, either on the part of brilliant writing or the amazing editing. The pace can be slow for some, but being somewhat of a veteran of art-house flicks and (mostly) Asian exports, I loved it. The film is more about fleshing out a story and characters, rather than really being some kind of chase film or a thriller. I only say this because certain audiences, those with little patience, might not be comfortable with a film that doesn’t force it’s self to continue moving on. If you’re one of those people, try and broaden your horizons a little I say. Just try it, you’ll be a better person. It’s been about a day since I watched the film now, and my opinion still hasn’t hardened on it. It’s just a very earnest film, and even though it’s certainly not perfect it’s one of the best Independent films (certainly for it’s budget) I’ve seen in a good long while. A film made by passion more than experience, and with enough talent to bring about all the things that it takes to make a truly great film. It’s philosophical and deep, but doesn’t sink into egotism. It’s made by a cast of young people, but comes off with maturity and vision well beyond the filmmakers’ years. It may not be at it’s height of popularity as of the moment but I sincerely hope that within a few years the film is able to develop a cult audience, because if something like Empire Records can gather such success, I hold enough faith in humanity that a film that deals with the events of maturity such as this can find some kind of audience for it’s self.
What truly makes the film so inspiring and impressive is obviously the acting and the visual flair of the film. Two things a lot of independent films sadly skip out on. The acting by all of the principal cast is surprisingly strong. There are spotty moments every now and then, but they don’t overshadow the immense talents on display. When I tend to think of directors acting within their own films, I get nervous. There have been numerous films by magnificent directors who just really don’t make the greatest of actors (I really don’t want to bring up Quentin Tarantino again, but I will if necessary). Gavin Heffernan is almost shockingly good in his role as Sam. I don’t want to do it, but I might as well bring up the fact that he kind of looks like a cross between River Phoenix and Jonathan Brandis (both have now passed away, RIP). He comes off charming in the film and very charismatic. Almost sarcastic at times, but never goes overboard with it. His performance is not without it’s flaws, but his charm keeps the film feeling solid, and not too overly dramatic. My favorite performance in the film probably came from Janet Lane though, who played her part to perfection. She seems a bit sullen and apprehensive about opening up at first, but as the film goes on she cracks the facade a little bit more and more, all while keeping that quietly cool persona. By the end of the film, the audience feels a connection with her character much like Sam does within the film. Her performance at first didn’t quite grab me so much, she seemed just a bit too ‘dark’, but it’s amazing what an hour into a film and a great performance by an actress will do. Erin Simkin also gives another incredibly strong display of talent. Although her character’s story arc didn’t seem quite as compelling as Sam’s (by no means a negative comment), she was the glue that held that section of the film together. She kept it interesting for me, although Yetide Badaki (Naomi) was also quite good with her portrayal of an abused daughter. Simkin, seemingly very young during the course of the film (like, my age), gave a very brave and impressive performance. The moments between her and Heffernan near the beginning (and end) of the film were some of my favorite bits throughout. The way she told Sam that she was pregnant, and his reaction to it came off incredibly real to me, and also somewhat slyly humorous. There are bumps in the road of course, and not everyone is perfect all of the time, but the acting is leaps and bounds away from a lot of the stuff I’m used to with first time filmmakers. There are the small characters within the film that truly light up the screen and keep things interesting, especially Jeremy played by Paul Rogic who I just loved in his role. He took it a bit over the top, but the part called for it and he made it look good. The Prophet played by Ted Phillips is another interesting and bizarre character, a bum in an alleyway who helps out our protagonists. I can’t even begin to describe his weirdness, but the guy makes it work, although I didn’t care much for a scene with him hooting and hollering in an alley while off screen. I didn’t quite like the way it sounded. There are a lot of other parts, like that of Denise DePass that should be mentioned. She didn’t quite grab me like much of the other cast, but her performance was well received and she did a great job with her character. If the acting doesn’t impress you though, I should hope that the cinematography, editing and musical score would do it. Although the film is shot on a digital camera, it none the less looks magnificent. Digital cinema is kind of hit and miss with me. I really like the fact that it encourages new filmmakers to get out there and get their movie made, but in the wrong hands digital cinema can just look bad. There are some great looking films out there though, and Heffernan and his cinematographers really give it their best go with digital. Producing some magnificent camerawork, probably thanks to all the beautiful sights located throughout Canada. The timing for all of the shots seems like it might would drive someone mad, waiting to get just the right sunset and just the right angle. It seems Heffernan & Company’s patience paid off though, because what they have here is something truly beautiful. The lighting indoors can be just as magnificent too. There are a few shots where things seem just a bit off, but by and large they did better than was even needed. The brilliant use of color is something I would have never thought I would applaud in a film shot on Digital Video. I’m not sure if Heffernan is a fan of David Lynch or even Dario Argento, but the use of color in the film easily harkens back to those magnificent filmmakers. There’s a scene that takes place in a completely red colored restaurant between Sam and Niki that just looks superb, it could have used the lighting being dimmed just a bit to give it a more ambiguously dark feel, but you have to make do with what you have when your budget consists of peanuts I’m sure. The editing in the film is essentially like a barrage of images, fine tuned to fit whatever is happening during the course of the film. It was the first thing that struck me within the film. Some of it could have been used for cutaway shots, perhaps to edit down some dialogue, but it’s done so well that it’s not noticeable at all. The striking images layered over and over really strikes a chord. The editing of clips from scenes that haven’t been touched on yet near the beginning of the film seems somewhat strange to do at first, but as the film moves on it just seems to add to the ambiguity of it all. Lastly, I would comment on the amazing piano score used in the film, provided by Jon Day. It truly does set the mood for the film, and keeps the film on course so much that it’s impossible to imagine the film without it. Almost haunting, the score readies you for anything that might happen. The songs provided by local bands are also quite well done, plenty of which seem worthy to look up the bands that wrote the material. What can I say, for the film that it is, it’s a monumental achievement.
So, have I went a little overboard with praise yet? I think I probably have, probably did a lot of blathering as well. Something I tend to do for far too long and on far too many occasions. All I can say is that the film impressed me. Maybe I had too low of expectations, but I don’t really recall having any expectations walking in. It’s a film that is entirely based upon whatever you take out of it. Some people are guaranteed to disagree with any message found in it, some might just not like taking a chance with anything that might be a bit different from what they normally see. It’s not a perfect film, as I hope I have made all but clear by now. Some of the lighting in the film doesn’t work all the time, the acting can be a bit spotty during some scenes and as brilliant as I found the editing there are just a few moments where it can seem a bit jarring with ambiguity, but that’s the film it is and you either accept it or moan on continuously. I accept it with some of it’s smaller faults, and I loved every second of it. Will everyone? No, but I don’t write these long, droning and egocentric reviews for every person on the block. I write them for the one or two people who may happen to agree with them. At least that’s what I tell myself. Anyway, it’s a film I highly recommend. I see it speaking deeply to anyone who watches it, but that could just be me. It gets a four for the somewhat foggier moments, but don’t let that fool you, this is a great film. I hope the cast and crew go on to make even greater films with resounding success. These cats deserve it.