HOTCAKES is a short film from 2012 that was directed by Jo Custer. It’s a neo-noir gangster film that involves a group of three companions who meet in a cafe. The film serves mainly as a prelude to a violent confrontation, which explores the characters’ involvement, motives and background. Considering that this film was written and directed by two different people, I feel that the interpretation and translation of the script by the director was incredibly befitting. The presence of non-diegetic sound and charismatic piano music helps to set the tone of the film right from the outset.
It’s shot in black and white and although this is often seen as an easy and clichéd way for filmmakers to try and make their work seem stylistic and more sophisticated or often a salvage move when the coloring isn’t right, I feel that this example is an exception to that stereotype. The genre and nature of the story work well with this classic looking cinematography, contributing a grittiness and coldness to the film’s visual presence. The patched spot lighting that is used gives the feel of a film noir picture, with the circles of light picking out important parts of the frame and directing the audience’s attention. However, despite its effectiveness within the mise en scène, it does present issues with shadows being cast on some of the actors, resulting in them being partially or completely obscured. I’m not sure whether this was accidental or perhaps a deliberate move to introduce a sense of suspicion and ambiguity regarding certain characters.
Another slight lighting issue that I found, one that seems somewhat recurrent in a lot of short films, is the fact that a bright background will often distract the audience’s attention from the less brightly lit character, drowning them out somewhat. I only found a couple of occurrences of it in this film however, with most shots being well lit and adding excellent definition to the characters and style to their scenes. The sets may be simple, but the few details that they contain are interesting, and aptly assert the environment without any scenes being littered with trivial, distracting features. Similarly with the costumes; they adequately establish the setting and reflect the character, but are not overly prevalent as a component of a shot. There were some slight but noticeable continuity issues with cutting between two shots of the same scene, due to altered hand placement or other minor differences. The audio levels are consistent, however, a portion of the dialogue does appear to be distractingly out of sync, perhaps suggesting a rushed post-production process. Despite this being a simple mistake, it can have a major effect on the viewer’s attention by diverting it away from the narrative, and therefore impeding their understanding of the plot.
The dialogue seems realistic and flows naturally, although I did find some of the colloquial language a little hard to understand, but I suppose that its presence within the script is vital in setting the mood and giving an idea of the main characters’ relationships and social origins. I felt that the acting was good all round, no particular performance really shone but there wasn’t one that stuck out as being particularly bad either. Overall, this film is very good and, despite the few distracting technical anomalies, it presents an interesting and engaging visual dynamic. Perhaps if as much effort had been put into checking the footage and sound as was dedicated to designing the sets and composing the shots, then the overall product would contain fewer errors. The majority of the film serves as a fitting and well paced build up, scattered with interesting and unique characters, that culminates in a surprising finale.