I watched this short film after finding a video-link on movie-blogger.com. To me it seems not really like a short film, more like a demo reel promoting the work of the people involved. As it stands, Seize the Night looks and feels as if it was intended as the pilot episode for a planned web series. So there is no real story told, only a lot of ground work is being laid concerning the characters and the world-building.
Seize the Night is shot in a sort of grey-ish black&white, which definitely works to its benefit. Everything in this short looks great, the cinematography looks (mostly) professional and the visual and special effects are very solid in a cost-effective sort of way (that includes the look (and use) of flash-back scenes). Combined with an interesting score by Eric Elick, and great work in the sound departments, Seize the Night establishes the characters’ world pretty effectively, and manages to come across as very atmospheric.
The film also has its downsides, and they weigh heavily. The few short fight scenes in this film are passable, but some of them barely so. The cinematographer tries to cover for the lack of action, and in doing that he unwittingly makes the camera work look less solid in these scenes than it is in the rest of the film.
The acting is often mediocre. In the minor roles this is barely noticeable. But unfortunately the lead actress Emma Dark is not up to the job she has undertaken. She has a lot of things down that are important for this role: the looks, the movements, the facial expressions. Unfortunately, when she talks it is mostly unintelligible mumbling. If that is an artistic choice, it is flawed; if it is not a choice, then she should attend some elocution lessons.
I am also not happy with her delivery. It is hard to describe, but it somehow feels to me that her lines come out of her character’s mouth, but never out of her character’s heart or brain. She says the lines, but it rarely ever feels like her character is natural.
Funny enough, I believe that this is not something anyone would necessarily notice had she played a supporting role in a feature length film; but as her character is the sole focus of this short, it starts to show. An atmospheric short film has to try to transport a lot of things (including a character’s development or doubts) in a limited amount of time; and it has to cram a lot of information and reveals into every single line, every single shot. That requires very good writing and directing, and a very high level of acting. Emma Dark is probably a solid actress, but she had two things working against her from the outset: the fact that this is a short film and not a feature-length film (which, ironically, often demands less of its actors than a short); and the fact that she herself is the director. I am sure that had she worked under someone else’s guidance and supervision, her performance would have been noticeably better.
Two other actors stand out for me. The first is Paul Ewen, who has appeared in a few low budget productions in recent years. His performance in a supporting role in Seize the Night is suffering from mild but persistent overacting. But he has an interesting face and screen presence and I am sure that if a director started to do some hard work on him and breath down his neck he could be solid supporting-role material for B-movies. The other actor I want to mention is Carey Thring. He gives a very good performance in this short, to the degree that I would argue that his appearance half way through the film sort of lifts up (or props up) the whole project.
As I said, there is not much of a plot here. And while it feels like a mixture between passion project and demo reel, the nature of this short, structurally, is very much that of a series pilot: conspiracies and shadowy organisations are hinted at, other hierarchical elements like “packs” and “covens” are alluded to, and many characters are mentioned in passing, with the promise of more. I know that there is a short film tradition of hinting at things but never fully revealing them, but that is not what is happening here. The content of this short is basically pilot-fodder: the introduction of a web of plots and subplots that needs to be developed in future. Thus all the hints and all the clandestine meetings in Seize the Night – while intriguing – unfortunately thend to feel confusing rather than mysterious (which I assume is what the filmmakers were aiming for).
This lack of plot and the confusing nature of this short make it nearly impossible to rate it. While the acting is mixed, and the “sights and sounds” are all pretty much sneaking their way up to 7 out of 10 (and beyond), the short as a whole cannot be rated higher than 3 out of 10, which pains me a bit.