In “Death in Charge,” everyone on Death’s list has one thing in common. Cause of death: Carelessness. But though the cause is the same, one name on the list comes with some unexpected baggage, a babysitting job.
When watching “Death in Charge,” a film produced through AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, one thing becomes clear. Writer/director Devi Snively knows what she wants her audience to be thinking every step along the way, and she knows how to make them think it. Her precision comes across in how she builds every frame. There’s an awesome, contemporary 50s vibe gives the film a definite style and edge.
The greatest challenge in writing about this film was deciding how much to give away. Though it’s only fifteen minutes long, small surprises and red herrings are peppered throughout. Marina Benedict’s portrayal of Death was one of those surprises, and not just because in this movie Death is a girl. Benedict’s portrayal of Death was wondering, resigned, and seemingly compassionate, more suited to a nun than the darkest creature in the human psyche. She was at once sensitive and deeply desensitized. Her wide-eyed melancholy had a girl next door charm, the kind of ghoul you want to take home to mama. (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)
No matter how fresh a concept, however, filmmakers should never rest on their laurels. If the film is good, it has to be good the whole way through. “Death in Charge” was well conceived, even better executed, but not without hiccups. Most of them added to the over-all murky, quirky atmosphere, but there was one that, well, didn’t. I am speaking about… a cliché.
In one scene the film’s co-star, Kylie Chalfa, imagines herself in jail. The young girl stands against the bars of a cell as a bigger girl in an orange jumpsuit pounds a fist against her hand and sneers menacingly.
Really? Pounding and sneering?
The scene comes during a particularly unnerving soliloquy by the Death character. It’s the turning point of the film, the point at which we begin to see who the real monster is. Yet the image of that pounding, sneering bully in the jail is cartoonish. There must be so many better ways to show that jail would be a terrible place for a child without breaking the tension.
Sadly, a lower quality film might have been able to get away with a few small flaws. This is really a case of a white car showing the most dirt. Audiences don’t like being thrown out of a story, and when you’re making something innovative, the quickest way to do it is to be predictable.
On a final note, for a movie about mistaken identity, I didn’t expect to think so much. “Death in Charge,” ultimately left me pondering compassion, duty, predestination, free will, and the cruelty of fate verses the cruelty inside human beings, all of them fresh and heartbreaking.
Make sure you catch “Death in Charge” at SHOCKFEST Film Festival (Nov. 7 at Cinespace in Hollywood). For details, check out http://www.shockfilmfest.com/.