Short Film: Heavy Soul

— by CAM SMITH —

There are few things more unbearable than surrealism done badly. Any unfortunate viewer who has attempted to wade through Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” or Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” can attest to this. It takes sharp creative focus and a keen understanding of visual storytelling to pull off, and while a truly disheartening number of talented artists clumsily trip over themselves the second they begin dabbling in the abstract, there are a rare few who totally get it and are able to communicate their warped sensibilities to an audience without causing aggravation.

One of the undisputed masters of the art-form is David Lynch, whose “Blue Velvet,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Eraserhead,” “Wild At Heart” and “Lost Highway” are milestones of surrealistic film-making (“Inland Empire,” not so much), and has obviously had a considerable amount of influence on the off-the-wall sensibilities of director Oren Shai, whose dynamic short film “Heavy Soul” has been making the festival and internet rounds the last few years.

Produced for just $10,000, Shai’s stylish short stars Sally Conway as Dakota Thompson, an innocent late ’50s-era high school girl in the Sandra Dee mould who, following a sordid encounter with a nogoodnik named Hal Grover (Joe Cabatit), becomes a ravenous “blood junkie.” Soon dogged by an otherworldly rockabilly musician and a creepy cowboy-boot clad assailant, Dakota finds herself trapped in a desperate battle to maintain control over her own ever-fracturing sanity.

While the nods to Lynch are frequent and overt – vintage American rock music on the soundtrack, vibrant reds and cool blues strategically placed within the frame, unsettling chaotic edits, fevered dream logic – Shai is far too smart to avoid falling prey to the temptations of well-intentioned mimicry, and proves that he has his own refreshingly unique vision to share with the world. With its booming authoritative voices preaching hokey moralistic dogma from off-screen and potent images of nightmarish overindulgence, “Heavy Soul” is highly recommended for those who enjoy taking a cinematic walk on the wild side every now and again.

A word of warning, though: You will likely find yourself deliriously tempted to make repeat journeys down this film’s twisted, spiralling rabbit hole. Just remember to proceed with caution, as this kicky head-trip boasts more unexpected turns than an ominous labyrinth of doom.

Heavy Soul from Oren Shai on Vimeo.

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