The Convict is a tense and thrilling 20 minute short film directed by Mark Battle. Plot details are sparse, and the setup is simple. The titular character, a convict, has escaped from prison after being denied parole and is currently the subject of a manhunt. The setting is a quiet, snow-covered town in upper New England, and taking place in such a stark setting definitely adds a frosty, visceral touch. As a viewer you can almost feel the bitter cold, which is reflected on the weathered, gaunt face of the convict himself. The sparse soundtrack enhances this feeling.
The acting and directing are among the best I’ve seen in films discussed on this site. Dean Temple plays the convict, and he doesn’t utter a word for the first 10 minutes or so, but he doesn’t have to; you can see it all on his face…the pain, angst, and desperation above all else. He dominates the screen, but the rest of the cast is good too. There’s a particular flashback to a parole board hearing that features subtle acting rarely seen in films like this.
I liked how the terse narrative reveals itself through a slow unfurling of juicy details. Each detail revealed propels the story forward, and most of them have big implications or are true revelations about the convict and his ilk. Thankfully, they are worked in naturally. They don’t feel shoehorned in or added simply for shock value. I didn’t find myself waiting for the next plot reveal or twist or whatever; it all comes together seamlessly, yet somehow unexpectedly, like a spiraling mountain pass.
Another cool facet of the narrative is the nature the convict himself. He is not an unsympathetic character, but he is not innocent either. My feelings of empathy towards him waxed and waned as more details were revealed and the story progressed. During my viewing I felt both disgusted and empathetic towards the man, rooting for him and then against. There were times I found myself admiring his ingenuity, while simultaneously feeling disgusted by how he employs it.
The climax comes when the convict hitches a ride from a character that’s played by an actor who resembles Louis C.K. The scene unfolds and the tensions builds, and at a certain point we realize that there’s no turning back for the convict or the audience’s feelings towards him. The tension boils over, and whatever sympathy we may have felt towards the criminal starts to plummet…at least for the time being, at least until the whole picture is painted. The movie hints at a larger story, a real chronicle about the convict and his family…and probably his victims. These 20 minutes feel more like the ending of a saga than a stand alone episode.
There aren’t any glaring weak points. The script is tight, and the technical aspects are sharp. The performance from Temple is taut and grim, and complements the filmic aspects perfectly. The only negative I can think of is a moment of deus ex machina in the first part, when the convict narrowly evades discovery by a little boy and the subsequent reality of committing maybe the most heinous crime imaginable. Overall it’s a thought provoking film, and though the themes are well-tread by this point, the filmmakers expose said themes from a new angle, an angle through the hard lens of a cold New England winter, when all hope is lost, and the only thing that could spur a person on, through the biting cold, is a chance at rediscovered love or at least a last glimpse of it.
An alumnus of the UMASS Amherst Journalism undergraduate program, Michael lives in Medford, MA and spends his time in local parks, contemplating life. Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.