As a psychological study with darkness at its heart however, it is a superb short film.
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. Nicky focuses on the psychological rather than the visceral, but the story at its core is no less disturbing. 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.
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 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.
This review was originally posted on http://www.brutalashell.com/2012/12/horror-in-short-review-nicky-2012/