Short Film Review “Playback”

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First, the Recap:

Utter isolation. Devoid of human contact. Completely alone. This is not the natural state we as people tend to seek out or relish should it actually become reality. Yet, for one lone man (Tom Schmitt), it is the very actuality he finds himself in, thanks to the aftermath of an undisclosed, though hinted at, catastrophe which has wiped out humanity. On the move constantly and utilizing the survival skills he’s now been forced to master, there is only the company of recorded messages played back on an old Walkman, a journal of past events.

Daily, the man narrowly escapes the dangers which now walk the landscapes of an otherwise hauntingly silent countryside, knowing one slip could spell the end of his lonely but determined sojourn. Randomly coming upon a house, long since abandoned and run down, a sudden and unexpected, brief encounter occurs, only interrupted from further exploration by an all too familiar sound that signals impending threat. Once again eluding a potential end, the man returns to the solace of his recordings, pondering what had just recently transpired. Then, this sole survivor comes upon the last thing he anticipates–someone else (Billy Perry).

Next, my Mind:

A film born in the span of only 72 hours as part of Frederick, Maryland’s 72 Hour FilmFest, director/co-writer Billy Perry’s 8-minute adventure carries a surprisingly potent punch in its portrayal of concepts like forced solitude, the will to survive, finding means to stay grounded in a sense of reality, and the uncertainty of encountering another soul after such drawn out detachment. Clearly shot visuals, with somewhat muted colors to invoke the appropriate mood and tone for the world the lead character inhabits, pair with a straightforward narrative that’s main dialogue is carried through the man’s Walkman, giving the viewer at least a glimpse into what fate the world has come to know. The finale’s moment of revelation indicating possible freedom from exile is well played.

Schmitt carries off the role of the Man with ease and poise, presenting him as someone who’s most certainly not happy with his status as an only survivor, and yet has ultimately found a specific way to cope with it via the recorded messages he listens to while journeying on and avoiding the blight which caused his state of being to be as it is. It is a very understated performance on several levels, but that is actually the point, as honestly, how exciting can one make aloneness be? Additionally, the moment of contact with another living person is where the real message lies, as his reaction to it is both expected and indicative of how we so often interact with others when confronted in times of high tension. Perry makes a short but excellent cameo as the new face in the man’s world.

The ongoing wonder for this reviewer still remains in how short films can so deeply express specific notions, moods, and tones while engaging the viewer in a relevant way over such a brief span of time. Personally, it at least can be narrowed down to how much indie cinema and the stories told within the genre continue to simply be presented on a basic, human plane that is relatable, accessible, and enjoyable to take in. “Playback” certainly fits this indie arena standard to a “T”, and delivers a solid take on exactly what it should–being human.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!

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