Review by Mark Schwab
February 21st, 2018
As I began to watch Daniel Bergeson's 10-minute short film UNEARTHED, something really struck me. That "thing" being that we have entered an age where independent films - even what some backhandedly call "micro-budgeted" - all look and sound great now. No longer can an indie film stand out above the crowd with exceptional cinematography or sound design because today - in a general sense - pretty much every film at every level embodies high-level tech specs. Let's face it...even Kevin Smith admits that if CLERKS came out today looking and sounding like it did in 1993 it wouldn't have gone anywhere and his career would have been DOA (would anyone take John Waters seriously if his deliciously subversive but scratchy sounding and muddily shot PINK FLAMINGOS came out today?). This isn't necessarily a bad thing because now what stands out is great writing and great acting. With the tech landscape leveled, all that's left are the purest essence of writing and performance.
UNEARTHED embodies all the (now standard) technical precision you see in indie films these days and is constantly parroted by us critics over and over again; perfect composition, excellent exposure, good use of natural lighting and a soundtrack that is crisply mixed. So how did it fare in the writing and acting departments? Pretty well for the most part with one drawback that I felt diminished the full potential just enough to be noticeable.
The film begins on an ominous tone with a shovel and a grave being dug by a visibly distraught woman (a properly stressed Aimee Klein). It isn't a spoiler to say that there is already a body next to the grave when her precocious daughter (Anya Clites) suddenly shows up with inquiring questions and pointed judgements about her mother's decisions regarding said dead body and a mystery starts to build and then unravel.
Writer/Director Bergeson makes good choices here with his locations and his two leads - everything feels right and authentic to a rural, backwoods mystery. Where he missteps in my opinion is that he forces way too much dialogue into these proceedings causing the mother and daughter to talk too much of the plot, backstory and internal motivations within them. Granted, his cast works hard (and succeeds) in delivering the dialogue professionally but it undercut the tension inherent to the story and telegraphed the twist at the end. This was a story that, frankly, didn't require one line of dialogue and I mean that as a compliment to the production - the imagery, story, cast, etc. was more than enough to carry this short film over the finish line of recommendation.
UNEARTHED shows a confident filmmaker's touch with creating a genuinely cinematic atmosphere of dread and it is worth checking out but I hope in his next film Bergeson shows the same level of confidence in his audience's ability to get swept up in his world without needing to spell everything out for them.
Learn much more about UNEARTHED at the following links: