En Passant

According to the all-knowing temple of knowledge known as Wikipedia, the phrase “en passant” refers to an unusual move played during a rousing game of chess. An alternate definition is found in the medical world, where an “en passant-finding” is the discovery of an unexpected problem by a doctor trying to solve a separate condition. For example, if you were a medical professional searching my lungs for cancer and in the process found a miniature civilization of Lung Elves; such detection would be “en passant.” Last but not least, En Passant is the title of an extremely bad short film no one needs to see anytime soon. My review could end right here and now, but professionalism forces me to go into some detail.

Before I go into the extremely negative portion of this analysis, let me first discuss the positive aspects of director Johnny K. Wu’s piddling exercise in cinema. The premise is decent, concentrating on two sinister blokes who face off in a competition of who can imagine the most grisly, tortuous death for their opponent. Notice I said the premise was decent, not solid or even remotely fool-proof. Secondly, the camerawork is decent, coming off crisp and setting a tense tone with plenty of extreme close-ups of our manic duo. Notice I said the camerawork was decent, not creative or devoid of imperfection. Finally, I liked the font used for the opening and closing credits. It was decent.

Now for the problematic elements, and there are quite a few, believe me. To begin, the script is a laughable mess, a collection of supposedly edgy one-liners and far too many passages spent describing various scenes of torture and gore. To give you an idea of how ponderous this movie becomes in the course of five minutes, here’s just one of those idiotic passages. Mind you, this is supposed to chill us as an audience: “I’m gonna take my fist and shove it so far down your throat that it snaps your jaw into two. And then when I get to your uvula, I’m going to seize it, and as hard as I can, I’m gonna yank the bastard!” Evocative? Hardly. Shocking? Not in the slightest, and no amount of childish cursing can make me think otherwise. There’s even a reference to “reality TV shows,” a decision I assume was made under the belief it would make the script topical. Needless to say, it only makes it seem more hackneyed and self-important.

Of course, in some cases even the worst script can be elevated by good performances, but no such miracle occurs during En Passant. The homicidal maniacs in the film are nothing more than extremely young-looking, obviously green performers who won’t get any better appearing in the short films of a friend. Kyle Znamenak accents every f-bomb like it’s cool and hip to curse, while Anthony Spadaccini’s line delivery is broken and completely unnatural. Both are reveling in the gooey, icky quality of the spooky-ooky script, and it results in emotionally obvious moments in front of the camera. You can quite literally see every thought passing through Spadaccini’s head, and every thought is some base variant of “My character is now disturbed/angry.” It’s called subtlety, fellas. A good dose of it would have gone a long way to making this film bearable.

My experience with En Passant ended when I was tricked into watching the film a second time, as the DVD boasted a “Sinister Version” of the film I just watched. As it turns out, the only difference between the original and sinister editions was the former being in color and the latter in black and white. Yes, because black and white is indeed sinister. To put it mildly, this second viewing of Wu’s movie didn’t improve its chances of seeing a positive judgment come time to pound out a review. It may only be seven minutes long, but believe you me, the ponderous story and acting on display will make any viewer feel as if they’re trapped in a pretentious, time-slowing vacuum of mediocre filmmaking. Sorry boys, but write this off as an experiment and stop pretending it’s worthy of an audience. That’s the truth, and I’m sticking to it.

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