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It’s always impressive when a complex yet heart-filled story can be told within a runtime of 15-minutes. But that is exactly what Mark J. Blackman does with his urban-fantasy film Neon. The story of Neon focuses on the love of a man and woman who have never met, in fact they have only spoken on the phone. The problem they have faced, and continue to face is his job. It is a job that forbids love, despite helping others find it. All he can do to be with her is quit said job; an act that will be far less cut and dry as it sound. And it is a story that would not work as a feature length film. But as a short, well that’s where magic is at work.
The genre of urban fantasy is one that has developed a bad reputation over the years, and to be fair that reputation is deserved. But what makes such a setting in Neon work, other than the runtime, is how well it actually manages to incorporate the supernatural element of the plot into that of the real world setting. Helping out with this is the films sense of style. When the story focuses on the female lead the style is a bright, mostly white and very BBC drama feel, as opposed to when the focus is placed on the male character, where it’s dark and neon covered (true to the title), giving off a tech-noir feel not too dissimilar from that seen in films like Attack the Block, The Terminator and last year’s Nerve. This helps give the film a differential feel between these two settings, yet they also feel similar enough, and with interconnecting characters to help, that they feel like a part of the same world too. Maybe I have a soft spot, having grown up with films from such people as John Carpenter, James Cameron and Ridley Scott, but I found the style to not only be visually gripping, but add more to the story and atmosphere than any line of dialogue.
That is not to say that the dialogue is bad, not at all. This is a very well written film that utilises its runtime as best as it can. Blackman does not fall into the trap of wasting dialogue on his characters. Every word has the weight that it needs to carry the film forward. He also has a good grip on his actors as well. Our leads are played by Joe Absolom (from Eastenders) and Kerry Bennett (from Hollyoaks, neither shows particularly interest me), and they both play them very well. These are not conventional characters, especially Absolom’s, so it is very impressive that they both played their parts so naturally. There isn’t that overacting moment or the “let’s really sell this” moment from them, it’s just the emotion that we as people have on display from them. Through them I found the characters to be oddly compelling and I was constantly waiting to see what twist or turn they came to next.
But something else that impressed me was how professional the film was. It looks and sounds amazing, and I’m not just talking about the style. The cinematography is excellent and it gives the impression of being helmed by a perfectionist who knows exactly how to get the shots that he wants for his films. This is helped with the fact that the sets and visual effects are on par with those seen in the later season of Game of Thrones. Most impressive, as I can’t imagine the budget was a large one. The audio and music are spot on and aid the atmosphere in the ways which it needed. Everything about this film was competently made; which does make it a shame when we get to the ending. There is a slow-motion segment, showing us multiple side of this story in a slower frame and little audio, allowing the music and visuals to convey the message. It is a well-directed and put together scene, one that does drive home the point that the film was trying to get across, it was just too long. It goes on for over 2-minutes and, unlike the rest of the film, started to feel wasteful of the running time. It is a shame because everything else was spot on, and it’s not a bad scene, I just wish that a minute or so of it was trimmed.
Neon is a strong short film with an effective style and a strong cast and crew. While watching, I was constantly impressed by it. Sadly, I did also find it to be somewhat forgettable. It stands out beautifully while it is playing, but very little remains after a few hours. Still, you must give praise to a film that moves you during its runtime.