Young Filmmaker Short Film Review

The western genre died one of the uglier deaths in cinema. It’s now excessively difficult to gather the funding, research the period for accuracy and to get audiences to see it. I’ve tried with many friends and partners to show them my favourite westerns and it usually ends in some choking snore. You can’t make a film about the birth of a nation so geographically beautiful and politically ugly without chewing some scenery. In response we now have the modern western, rife with pumping soundtracks and throaty accents. 


Which brings us onto ‘Slightly Red Handed’, written and directed by James Hastings. The opening moments of dawn breaking through the trees hint that we’re in for a traditionally slow opening. No sir. With the twang of the title card comes a high energy folk song to set the scene for a large scale introduction of a short. The song is original, booming and certainly on theme. Sweeping camera movements track a raggedly dressed horse and cart through farmland. The voices behind this song are revealed to be singing outside of a log cabin/shed. They look to be seasoned IPA drinkers. They are told to move on and so sets our scene. The colour grade of the scene informs the keenly eyed viewers that this is a small scale production, with a decently planned budget for the genre piece. 


The film concerns its time with three principle characters. Carson Avery (Wayne Reid), Jericho Pile (Adam Tucker) and Dorothy Pile (Katie McKenna). The men have been directed to chew the entire molasses out of the scene. Carson is an isolated, shed dweller who deals with the occult. Reid plays him with a dominating presence and a croaking patois. In the middle of the stormy night the reverend Jericho turns up to Carson’s wooded domain. Tucker plays the reverend with A fistful of enthusiasm. Over the course of a smoothly shot conversation we understand that Jericho saw Carson years ago perform miracles to the public. Now this man of god needs a miracle that apparently the lord doesn’t want to provide. You wonder why. Jericho’s wife, Dorothy Pile (who is played fearlessly by McKenna), died the night before and Jericho needs Carson to work his magic on bringing her back urgently. After dinner of course. 


Elements of the dialogue are wildly delivered, most notably one of the characters even saying of his wife that ‘he raped her of her soul’. Like Hemingway or Carver, you get the sense that the script wasn’t entirely born out of sober focus. As is the case with many westerns, the actors can be difficult to make out entirely but what they do say seems to be inspired by a Tarantino-driven sense of blood and holiness. Abiding to the genre, the men all seem to be amoral beasts. They’re motivations led only by money or the promise of salvation from god. 


The production design of the film feels charmingly stretched. The cabin feels dusty enough, eagle-eyed merlot drinkers will spot the 19 Crimes Easter egg laid by Roy Hastings. The outfits look generally accurate to the time period we’re discussing, each character with their own unique look (an actors’ dream). The hanging bodies from the trees look fantastic. Though they’re always shot from a low angle this helps hang some dread over the viewer. The film is shot particularly competently by Amber Tunstall but one can’t help but yearn for a slightly bolder colour pallet. A simple grade for some shots could really illuminate the faces and general body horror. 


The film ends as it began, with a charming musical number that feels slightly stronger than the contents of the film but still leaves you satisfied. It’s hard to pull off a western without a considerable creative arsenal and budget but James Hastings has managed it. 

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