“Nicky” is a Haunting, Honest Short Film
It was hard to watch Nicky, a tremendous 32-minute short film from director Dom Portalla based upon a short story by the film’s lead Ken Flott. There are films that dance too closely to your own psyche’ and your own life experiences that to watch them is like ripping open the wounds from years’ past and picking away at the scabs.
I needed to watch it, though, and not just because Portalla had contacted The Independent Critic asking for a review. I’ve said “No” before, and I’m pretty sure I’ll say “No” again. This time, I couldn’t say “No.”
Nicky centers around an anonymous man (Flott) known only as The Narrator in the credits and whose identity is basically irrelevant because it has been swallowed up in a tragedy that consumed a good majority of his adult life and the lives of those who have tried to love him. It has been years since his little brother, Nicky, was kidnapped and disappeared without a trace, an event that occurred on our protagonist’s first wedding day and an event that has defined every day in his life since.
Consumed by the idea of discovering what happened to his little brother, The Narrator has gone through two marriages while keeping the rest of the world at bay.
Nothing else matters.
Now, with the help of an underground network he has discovered the truth and he’s prepared to exact revenge for his little brother and for himself.
Forgiveness? Not in this case. It’s not an option. In this case, there is only one way that justice will be served.
There are a couple of ways that Nicky could have unfolded that would have turned the film into nothing but another exploitative, bloodthirsty action flick. Portalla could have simply focused on the act that led to Nicky’s disappearance, a traumatic event that is really only briefly glimpsed. This may have upped the film’s drama, but it also would have given the film a structure it doesn’t need rather than the remarkably haunting psychological suspense it possesses.
Alternately, Portalla could have simply focused more time and energy on the events that unfold once The Narrator learns the truth. While these scenes are harrowing, Portalla does a wonderful job of not forgetting that the film is ultimately about The Narrator and the lasting, life-changing impact of his complicated grief and unresolved trauma.
Again, Portalla and Flott have chosen wisely and the result is a film that unfolds patiently and with an emotional resonance that you won’t easily shake even after you’ve left the theater.
If you’re like me, a parent who has lost a child at the hands of another, in my case my late wife, Nicky is a film that will trigger your memories or flashbacks while challenging you to examine what you would do if given the chance to exact a semblance of revenge.
Would I forgive?
Would I seek “an eye for an eye?”
The truth is I don’t really know.
As much as I myself have always leaned towards forgiveness, Portalla and Flott do a terrific job of creating a story that doesn’t feel right or wrong. The Narrator is living out his story and acting in the only way that he can in order to make peace with himself and peace with the past. Is it the right choice? Is it possible to make the right choice in this circumstance?
As The Narrator, Flott gives a compelling and unforgettable performance that is simultaneously sympathetic and a wee bit disturbing. He gets our sympathy, I think, because for him this is so clearly not an easy choice but, perhaps, an only choice. We may not agree with the choices he’s making, but we understand them and we care about him. Flott’s is a tremendous performance that is complex precisely because it is so very simple.
The supporting players are strong, as well, though the film is truly Flott’s and he makes the most of it. Charles Everett Tacker, as young Nicky, and Marianne Bayard are particularly compelling in relatively brief appearances. Portalla handles the lensing for the film, and he does so with a terrific eye towards maximum emotional impact. The camera doesn’t simply follow the story, but it seems to dwell inside the characters giving us an intimacy that makes everything that much more haunting. Danielle Samson’s original music is stellar, a perfect companion for the short film that speaks volumes when no words are being spoken.
It was evident from point one that Nicky was meant to have a strong social impact as Portalla and his cast/crew donated 10% of the proceeds raised from Indiegogo to the magnificent organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). The film is already proving to be quite popular on the film fest circuit and if you get a chance, you should definitely check it out.
Again, I do give a bit of a caution to abuse/trauma survivors that the film definitely has a potential to trigger and if you’re going to check it out I’d recommend having a safe person with you to help process the film’s powerful story and meaningful points for discussion.
Year Released: 2013
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 32 minutes
Nothing is quite what it seems in Dom Portalla and Ken Flott’s newest Kafkaesque short film, Nicky—and that’s what makes us view it with one eye on the screen, and the other on the nearest exit.
The abduction of his young brother, Nicky, causes an unnamed man (Ken Flott) to seek vigilante justice, years after the boy disappeared. It seems that Nicky vanished one day, right after his older brother’s wedding, and was never seen again. At least not in any tangible way, that is.
The man in question is an office worker of some unknown variety. A lonely and seething individual, he sits at his computer, cloistered in his three-walled cubicle. Every so often a female co-worker invites him to join her and their associates at a nearby bar, but he always refuses, pleading this excuse or that.
The screenplay that Flott and Portalla concoct is written so gleamingly illusive, and is so philosophically ambiguous, that the tale that emerges is wide open to interpretation. That, coupled with director Dom Portalla’s probing camera that gets disturbingly close to his lead character that we can practically see the workings of the vigilante’s mind, as his thoughts evolve and devolve into something unfathomable.
Equally fascinating is the abductee, Nicky, who comes in and out of existence in a manner that makes us question just who, or what, is the driving force of all that we’re experiencing.
Needless to say, viewers can expect chills— just as I’m enduring now— merely by reviewing this 32 minute marvel that begins and ends before we realize what just happened. I’d love to tell you what transpires at the very end, but fear I’d better not. So best see Nicky for yourself—if you’re quick enough…
February 5, 2013
(2012, Dir. by Dom Portalla.)
I first encountered the work of Dom Portalla and Ken Flott, the men behind the short feature Nicky, in the fall of 2010. Portalla had directed the ambitious low-budget thriller The Darkness Within (which came to me via longtime friend of FMWL Cortez the Killer over at the rockin’ Planet of Terror), which featured a key side performance by the attention grabbing Flott. It was a good little film that piqued my interest in the folks at Door Eleven Productions, and that interest has thankfully led me to a pretty fantastic short film today.
As a bit of an obsessive nerd, I remember a lot of weird things that I hear on the internet. Back when I was checking out that flick, I remember a tweet or interview or podcast or something featuring Portalla where he was talking about some kind of difficulty with the film’s story and was resigned to admit something like “Thankfully, we had Flott.” I remember being taken aback by the frankness of the director, who seemed unwavering in his confidence that this man was a one-of-a-kind talent. Seeing what they’ve done now, it’s easy for me to understand why.
Which brings us to Nicky, which is directed by Portalla, based on a short story by Flott, and co-written by the duo. Look at the poster and you will literally see three lines of credits that feature only these two names, plus Flott as the top billed member of the cast.This is by no means a two man show entirely – the 30 minute short has more characters and settings than you’d expect based on its length – but it is a showcase for Flott, who moves through the film and commands our attention at every turn.
The story follows Flott as a nameless man who is searching for his little brother, Nicky, who vanished years ago without a trace. We learn a lot about the man through an inner monologue that plays as narration – not to mention his brief conversations with his unconventional best friend – and it’s not hard to see where the plot is going as we watch this man move through his life. But, as he did in The Darkness Within, Flott demands our attention and makes the character fascinating.
His journey goes to dark places, which makes Nicky a trip down an unsettling rabbit hole. There’s violence and there’s foul language and there’s even the obvious statement about human trafficking, but there are also some truly unsettling moments that go beyond the expected. The appearances of young Charles Everett Tacker as the title character – usually accompanied by a beautiful score by Danielle Samson – add an air of mystery to the film and push us to that great spot where we’re not quite sure what to believe. The end result of these scenes will surely be some conversation about what happened or didn’t happen, what was “real” or “not real”.
Nicky is an impressive piece of filmmaking. It’s put together well by Portalla, well acted by Flott and company, and – most importantly – unique and engaging. It left me wanting more – it’s easy to see this story blown up to feature status with all the questions that remain and the characters that are being established – but it also left me satisfied with what it is. The Darkness Within seemed like a fun diversion, the kind of flick a bunch of talented friends make when they’re just seeing what they can do. Nicky seems like the next step in the evolution of Portalla and company as filmmakers, and I’m willing to guess that anyone who meets Nicky won’t soon forget it.
We’ve been informed that Kendall Square Cinema’s online box office is officially SOLD OUT of tickets for Nicky’s Boston Premiere!
However, we are able to offer the remaining seats that are currently available through our website!
Please note, tickets will not be available at the box office on the evening of the showing. If you have not already purchased tickets, you must do so here! These tickets will be available for pick-up at Door Eleven’s merchandise table on the night of the event (please bring a valid I.D.)
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their tremendous show of support and look forward to seeing you all at the movies!
Boston-based production company to premiere dramatic thriller “Nicky” on Thursday, February 7 at Landmark Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge
BOSTON, Mass. – January 23, 2013 Door Eleven Productions, one of Boston’s leading independent film and video production companies, today announced its latest dramatic thriller, “Nicky,” will premiere Thursday, February 7 at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge. The 32-minute short film marks the third time Door Eleven has used Boston as the backdrop for an emotionally gripping tale, further solidifying the production company’s rising star amongst Boston’s burgeoning film scene.
“Nicky” tells the visceral tale of an emotionally damaged man seeking retribution for his young brother’s kidnapping and the toll his obsession takes on him and those around him. A project in the works for more than six years, “Nicky” marks the third collaboration between director/cinematographer Dom Portalla and lead actor/producer Ken Flott. The film was shot on location across Greater Boston and features a cast comprised exclusively of area actors.
“What really drew me to adapt ‘Nicky’ for the big screen was the profound sense of sadness in the narration,” said Portalla, founder of Door Eleven, who adapted the screenplay from Flott’s original short story. “For ‘Nicky’s’ main character — his entire world sort of ended the day his brother disappeared and from that moment on, he became disconnected from everyone and everything around him. While the circumstances may certainly differ, I feel that what’s at the heart of the film is an experience many can relate to.”
WHAT: Premiere of Door Eleven Production’s dramatic thriller, “Nicky.” Cost of admission: $10. Q&A session with cast and crew to follow screening.
WHERE: Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney Street, Cambridge, Mass., 02142
WHEN: Thursday, February 7 from 7 – 8 p.m.
To purchase tickets for the premiere of “Nicky,” please visit DoorElevenProductions.com . Follow the event on Twitter at #WeMissYouNicky
About Door Eleven Productions
Door Eleven Productions is an independent film and video production company based in Boston specializing in grassroots projects, features and short film. Features include 2007’s crime-comedy, “Duality,” & 2009’s critically acclaimed psychological thriller, “The Darkness Within,” among several award winning short films.
Purchase tickets for “NICKY” below!
The mind is a wonderful creation, and imagination is one of its greatest gifts. But in some cases, the imagination can be torturous. In the case of Nicky, our unnamed protagonist (simply called The Narrator in the credits) has been tortured for many years by his own imagination. Saying goodbye to his baby brother, Nicky, on his wedding day, The Narrator had no idea it would be the last time he would ever see his little brother, for just a few months later Nicky was kidnapped and disappeared without a trace. Since that time, The Narrator has never given up looking for little Nicky, hoping to discover what happened and who was responsible for his death. He has been utterly consumed with his search, even through the course of two marriages, neither of which worked out. And now, with the help of an underground network, The Narrator has discovered who stole his little brother all those years ago. Now it is his turn to put the wheels into motion as he seeks vengeance for his little brother.
As a parent I cannot think of a single thing worse than the death or disappearance of a child. Each time a child is lost and the details of the crime pour forth from the television, my heart breaks for the child and their family. I often wonder what would be worse: knowing the details of what happened after the disappearance of the child, or not knowing anything at all. As horrific as some details may be, not knowing allows the imagination to run wild–certain torture for any parent of a missing child. This is the misery our Narrator goes through as he first has no idea what happened to Nicky, then learns the details of what happened after the kidnapping. Along with this, add the burden of guilt The Narrator feels at not being there to protect his little brother, and it is no wonder his life has been consumed with seeking vengeance for Nicky.
Based upon an original short story by Ken Flott, who also wrote the screenplay and stars as The Narrator, Nicky is a haunting 30-minute short film. As a writer, Flott tackles some tough questions about child exploitation as well as the concept of revenge versus forgiveness. In situations like these, there is never a simple answer. While some would seek vengeance, as does The Narrator, others would argue that forgiveness is the only answer. In this particular instance, the protagonist enacts his revenge which allows him some peace of mind. It is an imperfect solution to a very complicated problem, and one that opens itself to a great deal of analysis from both sides of the discussion. The reality is that people are different and some can forgive more easily than others. By inserting guilt into the equation, Flott makes the argument even more difficult.
Director Dom Portalla also makes some classy choices with the material. Instead of detailing the specifics of the crime that occurred against Nicky, Portalla only allows a brief hint of what might have happened to be exposed as the story unfolds. Portalla avoids the pitfall of using the prurient details, which might be a total turn-off for the audience, instead opting to allow the imagination to fill in those details. Later, as The Narrator captures the kidnappers and exacts his revenge, Portalla again wisely chooses to merely hint at things to come, thus avoiding an Eli Roth Hostel-inspired ending. Once more, the viewer is allowed to fill in the blanks. These two crucial choices elevate the film and keep it from being a simple story of revenge, allowing the audience to address the tough questions being asked–questions no one ever wants to have to answer for real.
Production value is superb, as is the acting. Most actors have only small parts in this film short; Flott is the real star as The Narrator. Flott is excellent as he pours his heart out to his ex-wife about his fears, or as he yet again turns down the pretty office girl’s request for a date, instead opting to continue the search for his brother’s kidnappers.
In the end, Nicky asks many more questions than it answers, and the answers given will only satisfy a portion of the audience. Others will be faced with even more questions. The film is complicated, as is the situation represented in the film, but I found it a sensitive and tasteful production about an ugly truth that happens more often than we want to think about.
Nicky is making the festival circuit, so if you get a chance to see the film, it is recommended that you do so. Bonus: 10% of the fundraising money for the movie was donated to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), proving that these filmmakers put their money where their collective mouths are.
By Keri O’Shea
As feature length movies grow increasingly longer, short films serve a purpose beyond themselves – and that is to remind the film-going world that a moving story can be told in a fraction of the time which many features feel they now need. This is the case with Nicky, the third film by director/writer Dom Portalla, whose own feature The Darkness Within was reviewed by Marc last year. In common with The Darkness Within, Nicky focuses on the psychological rather than the visceral, but the story at its core is no less disturbing. The film explores the enormity of personal tragedy, and the fact that Nicky focuses on the impact which this tragedy has on an individual makes it far more harrowing than even the nastiest horror could hope to express.
Our nameless lead character and narrator (played by Ken Flott) is a man living with the fallout from the disappearance of his little brother – the Nicky of the title – many years before. The unresolved sense of loss has cast a shadow over his life ever since, trapping him in a kind of stasis, unable to move on. He refuses invitations to socialise, two marriages have failed – and all the time, just out of his line of vision or when he’s between sleeping and waking, he sees Nicky, just as he was on the day of his disappearance. It’s clear that our lead has to do something, or something has to happen. His life is half-lived, and he can’t go on in this manner. So, when he finds out about something which could help him to find out what did happen to his brother, he takes the opportunity to try and get the closure he needs…
This is a strong effort from Portalla – who realises that it’s possible to balance tension with pathos when you get your focus right. Key here is the performance of Ken Flott, who developed the idea for the story and also collaborated on the screenplay; Nicky is in many ways a character study of our narrator, and he is kept in very close focus throughout, albeit at times obliquely. Flott’s character often appears in profile, for instance, which gives the impression that his state of mind is hidden and adds to the feeling of distance between him and the other characters he encounters. He’s present, but he’s also absent. The fact that he isn’t named is important here too, especially as someone else’s name hangs so heavily over the story; his own identity has been lost, as he tries to find out what happened to another person. His plight isn’t over-expressed, but yet we get a surprisingly complex character, someone whose inner life you can believe in.
As to if and when the narrator finds the answers he seeks, the pace of reveal here is effective and engaging, and it kept me guessing throughout. Coming in at just under thirty minutes, it’s testament to the film’s writing that it made such good use of the timescale it had, utilising ambitious editing and a script which manages to be sardonic in places, and genuinely moving in others. That said, there were a couple of moments where a brand of surreal, almost black comedy crept in, and I wasn’t so sure that this fitted with the general vibe of the film. Sure, it aided the distancing effect present throughout the film, but it did jar a little with me. It was the simply-expressed emotion which I thought made up the stronger aspect of the script: the line “they unfortunately live forever” summed up so much about what is at the heart of this film – the rawness of grief. In fact, the brief nod to horror which is present in the resolution – however necessary it is to the plot – is where the film is at its weakest, because here it is most easily-linked to horror tropes it exceeds elsewhere. As a psychological study with darkness at its heart however, it is a superb short film.
Here’s a sneak preview of Nicky, which is currently on the festival circuit.