This was a welcome surprise. This 2015 short (15 minutes in length) was sent to us recently as an online festival screener.
And it's great.
Essentially a comedy, SETH earns its place on the pages of SexGoreMutants thanks to an underlying mordant tone, its dark theme of mental illness and a clear love for the macabre on the side of its makers.
It tells of Seth (Logan George), an awkward rake-thin man-child who lives with his Dad (Emmett Smith) in what appears to be a highly affluent abode. Seth spends most of his time in his bedroom, conversing passionately with his teddy bear pals. In particular, he likes to confide in a bear named Christopher.
This one morning, Seth has woken up with a burning desire to complete all of his life goals in the space of one day. These involve eating corn of the cob, drinking whiskey, wearing a headband with conviction, reciting a quote from his idol Michael Jordan, waxing his arms and eating more corn of the cob. By the time the evening draws in - and following an expertly edited high-speed montage of the day's events - Seth is jubilant. He even hosts a celebratory party, complete with a banner, for him and his toy pals.
But Christopher is refusing to join in with the festivities. When quizzed, it turns out that Seth has overlooked one very important item on his list of goals: impress his father.
Dad, you see, is an emotional desert. He shows his son no affection or interest. Indeed, when asked if he hates Seth he says not ... but adds that he doesn't really like him either.
For the fragile, intense Seth, this is clearly a major issue. But, come the following morning, how can he gain his father's approval?
Various things are attempted - from being there in the shower to pass the soap to Dad, to threatening suicide, to pasting images of himself into the pages of the old man's favourite magazine. None of these are working. In fact, Dad seems more agitated by Seth than ever: he's seen despairing while reading a self-help manual entitled "5 Signs that Your Child may be Mentally Unstable".
I wonder, does taping over your Dad's copy of THE GODFATHER with home video footage of your bloodied self-adopting a poor Marlon Brando impersonation while appealing for love, constitute being a little bit nutty?!
How far will Seth go to earn a hug from his Dad? See it, and find out!
Director Zach Lasry has tried his hands at various movie-related things. He's been a bit-part actor in the likes of PROJECT X and TV series "Entourage"; he worked as a production assistant on Martin Scorsese's THE WOLF OF WALL STREET; his production credits include the short AMERICAN ODYSSSEY and the recent thriller BODY. As a director, he's worked previously on low-budget American TV sitcom "This Is Me Trying" and the soon-to-be-released short BETH.
On the strength of SETH, I'd say he's definitely one filmmaker we should all be keeping a keen eye on.
From producer Arianna Lyons' email that accompanied the online screener, the film "shows the importance of bravery and perseverance when it comes to personal relationships. No matter how impossible you think it is to connect or how seemingly different you appear from someone else, there still exists the ability to be vulnerable and honest without sacrificing the real you. For Seth, this is the ultimate challenge ... It is a story about acceptance of self and of others".
To this end, the two leads (the only cast members) are perfect. Smith's disdain is never overplayed: his understated dislike for Seth is both comical and heartbreakingly plausible. He says a lot in silence, such are the power of his facial expressions. George, meanwhile, delivers a powerhouse performance wherein every emotion known to man is conveyed in an incredibly short space of time - sometimes within a single scene. He's funny, but we warm to him quickly and wish him well with his quest. Smith's talent is that he's never perceived as the bad guy, despite constantly knocking the intense Seth back.
A slick, polished look gives the film a big budget quality (though I'm sure we'd be surprised to learn how little this probably cost to make), while Lowell A Mayer's cinematography- nicely scoped at 2.39:1 for an attractively filmic appearance - is frequently excellent without detracting from the drama. Lighting and set design both also impress, while Bryan Gaynor's editing is little short of amazing.
From a writing perspective, Lasry and co-screenwriter Kate Bloom find an intelligent balance between social statement (as outlined in Lyons' above address) and irreverent comedy. They're also wise enough to put information across subtly and succinctly, assuring the viewer soon latches on to scenarios without the writers ever resorting to clumsy expositional passages.
Brisk, amusing, thought-provoking. Superbly performed and shot. Edited with an eye towards forthright storytelling. SETH is a great example of tightly controlled, focussed filmmaking which builds to a funny punchline and satisfyingly ambiguous final scene.
The film has already won the Alternative Cinema prize at the Las Vegas Film Festival, and is currently scheduled to play at several other fests, including Hollyshorts Film Festival, Chicago Comedy Film Festival and Woodstock Film Festival.
It's a film that's bound to gather momentum as word-of-mouth inevitably grows. Keep the name in mind - SETH - and catch it when you can.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Zach Lasry|
|Produced by Fever Dream Productions|