“White Trash” is a Perfectly-Crafted Slice of PulpPosted: May 4, 2014
One thing that has always intimidated me about short films is the thought of trying to condense two hours’ worth of narrative, character, emotion and style into something less than 15 minutes long. It’s an incredibly difficult task, especially for someone who’s always thought in feature-length terms (as most aspiring filmmakers likely do). And knowing that difficulty gives me extra appreciation for what Chris von Hoffmann has accomplished here with his 2014 Dances with Films entry White Trash.
When I describe White Trash as “pulp” I mean it in the same vein as Donald Westlake and Jim Thompson: a grimy, violent look at the dark underbelly of society. And that’s exactly what it is: a twisted story of abuse and comeuppance involving a young woman, her douchebag husband and some unsavory, gun-toting debt collectors. Von Hoffmann uses the condensed time of the short to his full advantage, keeping things tense throughout, and spending just enough time on each moment of the story without undercutting the pace. There’s a constant escalation from moment to moment which adds to the tension and keeps you engaged.
All of the characters are defined very quickly, a combination of savvy writing and great performances which just contributes to the tension in each scene. In the beginning, when Nat is making lunch for Charlie, you can sense the anger and impending violence in every line of dialogue and every look on their faces. You know that this is an unhealthy relationship, and when Nat goes back to the bedroom and pulls out a gun, it makes perfect sense both from a character perspective and from the necessity of narrative escalation. And there, I think, is the key to crafting a good short film (and films in general): every moment needs to serve multiple functions, on a character and structural level, to get the most done as quickly as possible.
White Trash is a great object lesson in how to cram a lot of story into a tiny running time, and certainly makes me hopeful that von Hoffmann will get a chance to play with a larger canvas in the future. It also doesn’t hurt that the whole thing is very professionally put together in terms of camera work, and editing, and music, showing a clear and focused vision throughout. If you get a chance to catch it somewhere, definitely do so, and keep an eye out for Chris von Hoffmann’s future work as well. I’m sure his next effort will be just as impressive as White Trash, and that’s saying something.
In the meantime, checkout the also-great teaser: https://vimeo.com/77932260