The Underdogs (2002)
Director: Jim Mickle
A mailman (Bianco) on a graveyard shift heads to a nearby town and quickly finds out that a pack of pissed off dogs are causing quite the ruckus. Itâ€™s not a good night to be a "Cliff Clavinâ€ť! Get the dude a beer!
If thereâ€™s one thing this 22-minute short film proved to me was that the man behind the lens known as Jim Mickle, holds much promise. This beautifully shot on 35 mm short firmly displayed high skill with Mickle managing to inject the flick with a thick aura of dread-filled atmosphere throughout. I felt a swaying dose of "Night of the Living Dead" and Stephen King-esque mood while feasting on the horror friendly images before me.
The film itself tells the tale of a town run amuck by a murderous pack of peeved canines. Using the "Jaws" approach to his baddies, we hardly ever see the house pets in a tizzy throughout the whole affair-- theyâ€™re mostly suggested, not shown. Although I appreciated the filmâ€™s restraint in that respect (mystery is always effective in maximizing suspense), I will say that the lack of on-screen violence lessened the impact of the overall piece as well. Seeing what these dogs could really do wouldâ€™ve made me fear them to some degree. Here, I never got close to being neutered by the rabid beasties and their carnage.
Character-wise, when working within 22 minutes and a somewhat large cast to boot, you donâ€™t have the time to explore your players as much as you might otherwise. Luckily for us, the acting was stellar all around and Jim resorted to the ultimate universal theme of upping the stakes of two particular characters: which was the love a man and a woman shared. Without having established that early on, I wouldnâ€™t have felt much towards Jim (Bianco) and Denise (Mercer). Their affection for each other gave me something to latch onto. Unfortunately, the side characters suffered badly instead (was that Debbie Rochon?), as I never got to know or care about them, which therein, lessened some of the whoop-ass effect that the situation couldâ€™ve had on me.
Although I enjoyed "The Underdogs" while watching it, I firmly believe that the nature of the storyline wouldâ€™ve worked better on a feature film canvas. That way the characters wouldâ€™ve been fleshed out more, the horror scenarios couldâ€™ve been emphasized upon hardcore and hopefully the violence wouldâ€™ve been cranked up a couple of notches. As-is, apart from a striking atmospheric look, some semi-tension and strong acting displays, "The Underdogs" never fully capitalized on its â€śkiller dogsâ€ť premise. It succeeded as an accomplished short film, but fell a tad short as an essay in fear. Get the Kibbles 'n Bits and chew on this!
None (apart from light blood here and here), all of the kills are off-screen.
Jerry Bianco (Jerry), Sally Mercer (Denise), Rodney Gray (Don) and Debbie Rochon (Bartender) all handled their parts well with genuine deliveries and charisma in tow. I wanted more of Rochon though! MUCH MORE!
T & A
None, even the dogs are dressed in furâ€¦bummerâ€¦
Mickle displayed a strong sense of composition when it came to his shots and itâ€™s obvious that this baby was storyboarded heavily with every frame counting. The smoke machine was also well oiled, the backlights hit hard while moderate suspense unraveled throughout. I should note that the delicious steady-cam trek in the woods kicked my butt to oblivion. It was simply gorgeous and rivaled anything a big budget horror film couldâ€™ve put out.
Composer Kevin W. Walker's somber ditties worked like a charm in upping the flickâ€™s spook quotient.
â€śThe Underdogsâ€ť had it all except a satisfying clock-time to fully explore its situation and characters. Iâ€™m not condemning the flick because itâ€™s a short, but I canâ€™t deny the feeling of semi dissatisfaction that I felt once it was all done and buried with. Itâ€™s still an expertly crafted little cookie that will hopefully act as a skeleton key for Mickle to break into the horror feature game and give us what heâ€™s got on a grand scale. The manâ€™s got talent...go get 'em, Cujo!
"The Underdogs" had a ten-day shoot and a budget of $20,000.
Sally Mercer was the winner of the 1997 Barrymore award for acting.