Films like “The Embalmer” are better with the lights out. Most of the action in this short film takes place in a dimly lit basement. Watching in the dark makes it easier to see every gory detail, enhancing each creepy second.
The scene opens on one man hanging upside down while another selects grisly tools with which to torture him. The tools are arranged on the kind of tray one might expect a doctor to use, or perhaps a butcher. The torturer is just about to get back to work on his victim. The amount of blood makes it clear he’s been working for a while. How bloody must that torturer’s hands be that he washes them in water that’s more realistically crimson than the blood in most low budget slasher films?
“The Embalmer” has a great cast. Tom Martin and Kevin Will managed to do justice to extreme characters in extreme situations without becoming caricatures. Though the film opens with a scene of senseless violence, Martin and Will built these two men in such a way that in the end it all made so much sense. The emotional arcs were so well developed that by the time the credits started rolling I felt like I’d watched a full length film.
In the first few seconds of any film, expectations are established. The film makes promises. A promise broken is trust lost between the film and the audience. “The Embalmer” set the bar high (high quality, highly stylized), and it never deviated. In that way, this film feels a lot like a Hollywood film, effortless to watch. The acting, plot, and pacing worked together to keep the film’s initial promises. That’s a credit to Michael Regalbuto, who’s careful directing never let the audience down.
Though there is charm in the almost unified divergence of most indie film from the main stream, I believe directors like Michael Regalbuto are the future of indie filmmaking. He and others like him will produce well-written, well-acted, well shot, and well-edited pieces that, though outside the mainstream, somehow transcend it. Due to limited resources either in funding or talent, indie films can easily and irreparably drop the ball in at least one of these areas, forcing audiences to lower their expectations in an attempt to salvage the experience. Getting a film right can be tough even for studio pics, but “The Embalmer” doesn’t ask that of its audience. We didn’t have to suspend our belief in order to forgive Regalbuto’s mistakes because, by and large, he didn’t make any.
I have just one small criticism. I felt the flashback ended too soon. It was rather abrupt. Perhaps the torturer grabbing the closest heavy object, indicating a coming blow to the victim’s head, might have done loads to explain not only the short duration of the initial struggle between them but also the victim’s disorientation in the beginning of the film. I almost feel like a longer version of the flashback exist somewhere, like it was shot but was, I don’t know, cut for time or something? Bring it back, please, if it’s out there. I promise we won’t mind if this film is a little (or a lot) longer. To be honest, I could even see it as a feature.