One of the films that can be seen at the upcoming Newport Beach Film Festival’s OCC Shorts event is director Nathan Laolagi’s A Revenge Story. The story follows David (Chris Gutierrez) as he seeks revenge for his dead sister only to land in a sticky situation with some violent guys in suits and ties. Told through narrated flashbacks, the tale is a stylized day in the life featuring aggressive freeze frames juxtaposed over blues rock tunes. It may get messy, but at least it looks good doing it.
One of the noticeable aspects of the film is the directorial influences. Almost every shot feels inspired by the style of Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese. From the pacing to the iconography, this feels familiar. However, what makes the film work is that Laolagi keeps the camera moving. His snappy editing and deviant vantage points breathe life into the familiar story. He also knows how to effectively use music, which includes an entertaining mix of local talents such as Hanni El Khatib and Joe Astle, who also co-starred in the film.
The cast is engaging, notably Chris Gutierrez, who leads the story into an interesting series of reveals in the third act. His biggest attribute is his ability to emote through voice over. He sells everything with a humdrum passion that only adds to his character’s inner turmoil. The rest of the cast also brings charisma, though it is mostly through swinging bats and shooting guns. At times, it feels too reminiscent of Tarantino, but the grounded reality and original story gives it some authenticity.
Laolagi is also an unflinching director when it comes to violence. The opening scene involves a bruised David about to get a baseball bat to the knee. Right as things are about to get graphic, he cuts away. He shows the violence modestly, choosing when it is appropriate to witness the chaos. The only time it gets too uncomfortable is during an extensive warehouse scene towards the middle when David is being interrogated. It is bloody and a lot of punches are thrown. Thankfully, the violence is woven well enough into the story that it keeps it from ever feeling inessential.
The film also has a mixed bag when it comes to the special effects. While the blood-spattered walls come across as cheap, the appearance of the physical wounds are impressive. By the end, Gutierrez’ face is one big pile of convincing mush. This is largely thanks to Sarah Chesshir, whose quality work makes the film feel more authentic. It helps to elevate the violence that makes the tension believable. Even some practical effects involving picture frames and ceramic cups reflect clever camera tricks add a nice touch. If there is one thing that this is missing, it is more scenes that display a sense of creative twists on the familiar subject matter.
Overall, it is a solid production by a promising director. While the story works in the 19 minute context, it is more the style that is intriguing. With rapid editing, aggressive freeze frames, and a convincing use of special effects, this film cannot be called boring. It may get a little too violent at times, but it is done so modestly that it never becomes too distracting. With engaging performances by the cast and an equally catchy soundtrack, it is a memorable experience. Laolagi’s understanding of camera placement helps to turn A Revenge Story into a consistently engaging film.