“…wind up peeking through her keyhole
down upon your knees…”
A Review of director Dammie Akinmola’s BOARD TO DEATH
by Pablo D’Stair
For my money, director Dammie Akinmola’s Board To Death is the epitome of what a good bit of short-form cinema should be—well (just because I like to not lose people for lack of specificity) it’s what a film with the purpose of slick (yet not superficial) entertainment should be. It is unique enough to give self-contained credibility to its quirks; it is thought through enough to sustain as a short, wholly complete hypnotism without demanding too much retroactive analysis (even as it leaves off on a puzzler which, in some sense, side-steps the pieces main, sustaining strength); it’s visually stylistic without allowing the traction of its voice, it’s narrative, to lose out at all.
And let’s start there, getting a bit more particular in this investigation: the film’s voice. Well, quite literally, it belongs to actor Joshua Expoisto, who delivers a constant narration as the film weaves in and out of its frame story and the rendering of particular (actual? fantasized? both perhaps?) vignettes of his character’s deep seeded (and exponential growing) noia regarding his wife’s fidelity. And it’s a voice more than a match for the visuals it accompanies—in fact, it is a voice that dominates, in texture and stylistic, the vocal performance of the actor supplying the undercurrent of grit to the depictions of increasingly male-centric, misogynistic violence that become the visual linguistics of the piece. And not to dump too much praise, I would go as far as to say that the voice—in it inflections, its specific yet still seemingly in-the-thought-moment deliveries—is the magic trick of the thing, infusing a gallows humor to the proceedings, a giddiness we as audience need present in order to be teased in to fully committing to and appreciating (with a kind of shared intoxication) the content for the dark laughter it contains.
None of this said to take away from the film’s visuals. Even as one who has more an affinity for a rougher around the edges look to cinema, the pristine photography of Kazi Zaman went a good length beyond impressing me. Exactly simple enough in it construction to allow the tiniest nuance (a light obscuring a face momentarily to a specific beat of music; the elegant geometric change to light and dark as car headlight off camera alter a still shot of a man seated in a silent room) to expand in to a pointedly necessary element of narrative. Even the subtle difference in how the “stage play” frame story is shot versus how each vignette seems to ratchet in a bit tighter, become somehow more askew without tipping its hand as to how so, speaks to the controlled impact of the imagery—here lingering long, here cutting quick in tounge-flick dances to match the constant voice-over of our increasingly dubious protagonist.
And the final link that holds the piece so uniquely together is the very subtextual performance of Victoria Ashford, the cipher-object of the narrator’s Edgar-Poe-meets-Johnathan-Nolan style obsessiveness. What at first blush could seem nothing more than a bit of modeling work rather than acting on Ashford’s part, becomes over the course of the film the guiding and impactful backbeat, the appropriate mire the rest of the film’s struggle is set in. In my own viewing, what I first took to be a reductive role for “the wife” (fitting to the very satiric rendering of a misogynistic self-centeredness of the narrative) became—via sets of eyes, fleeting yet specific framing of this or that wrinkle of the mouth as Ashford’s expression moved from one puzzle to the next—a coy control, more than control, a dominance—the downplayed, minimalist performance the perfect pairing to the obviousness of “the husband’s” roiling down the drain.
Short cinema of this sort, at its best, reveals itself to be more than the sum of its parts, a moving art that expands by keeping itself as constricted as possible and Board To Death achieves this with aplomb through its deft balance of substance-over-style, yet style enough to spare.
BOARD TO DEATH can be found here: http://www.boardtodeathofficial.com/
Pablo D’Stair is a novelist and filmmaker whose works include A Public Ransom, HULLY GULLY: a new American romance, and HONEY HALO: the Left By Snakes video series. More information on his work can be found at https://pdstairfilms.wordpress.com/
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