“Play Dead, Grandpa” Could Be the Start of a Great FilmographyPosted: April 9, 2014
I’ve found that establishing a unique voice as a filmmaker can be a challenge, to say the least. For me it is one of the biggest impediments to my attempts at creativity, mostly because it’s not something you can choose. Rather, it’s something that comes naturally and without too much forethought. And while I can’t say for certain whether Stefan Fernandez came upon his filmic voice naturally, I can say for certain that Play Dead, Grandpa (which recently played at the Twisted World Film Festival) has the feel of someone who has found his voice, and it’s one I hope to see more from soon. This story of elderly prankster Albert falling prey to his own grim sense of humor is everything you want to see out of a short film, and establishes Fernandez as someone to watch.
The state of the short film world can sometimes seem dire. For every original and distinctive work there are a million fan films and homages that, for all the buzz they get, are all technical accomplishment and no substance. Even shorts that are original concepts tend to be just that, with no real story or character beyond slapping the idea up on the Internet. The result is a long list of shorts that, while momentarily entertaining or fun, leave me feeling cold about the filmmakers. Since the appeal of their shorts lies purely in the concept, I usually find it hard to get excited at the prospect of more work from them; who’s to say their next concept would be better? But in the case of Play Dead, Grandpa, we have not just a great concept, but a short that showcases the sort of deeper filmmaking talent that makes me want to see more.
While my initial mental association upon seeing the trailer was John Carpenter (an association I can’t quite explain), the closest possible comparison here is to Edgar Allan Poe. It has the same dark, ironic causation/just desserts concepts that the most famous Poe stories are known for. But in this case, Fernandez has mixed it with a bit of an absurdist slant and shot it with the eye of a horror fan, which leads to what I feel is a very distinctive little story. My biggest complaint might be that Albert’s final fate is not quite as poetic (heh, unintentional puns!) as I might’ve expected, but if anything the randomness of what happens plays right into the absurdity and the horror that Fernandez is going for. Even the old-school tricks (the boiling kettle to build tension, the quickly-cut frame before the credits) are executed perfectly, and actually have the desired effect that many aspiring filmmakers tend to miss.
Like many short films, Play Dead, Grandpa is light on plot, so it’s more about concept and tone and style. But even in doing this, the short reveals itself in the end to be, in my mind, a fable about the importance of making the most of your time with your loved ones and not taking them for granted… and to accomplish something like that in such a limited time requires a very clear idea of what you’re doing and what you want to say. So while I do still wonder what Fernandez would do with a longer running time and a more direct narrative and character arc, this short definitely establishes him as a great idea man, and someone who can execute those ideas with a clear tone and style and even some emotion too… which in and of itself is rare to find in the same filmmaker at once.