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REVIEW: Lion

– By Kriss Pickering

On the face of things, “Lion” is like the scores of horror shorts that are released. It seems like your classic low budget shocker with minimal cast and crew, but that perception is totally wrong. You see, to make Lion, Italian director Davide Melini has put together an absolutely brilliant crew. And trust me, it shows!

Lion takes us into an isolated family home, set in a snowy forest. Firstly, as the camera pans into the house, we hear some jarring sound effects depicting physical and mental abuse against a screaming child which is a really effective way of setting the back story. We are then introduced to the dad, who is watching TV surrounded with many empty cans of beer and used cigarettes, before being taken into the child’s bedroom. Although asleep, the contents of his bedroom give us a foreshadowing of what is to come. You see, Lion is a 12 minute heartbreaking story of child abuse that culminates in a Lion taking retribution for the parents’ actions. I don’t want to spoil things any more than that though…

As I’ve already mentioned, the team that has been put together to make this project is first rate, and it shows throughout the film. From the opening credits that look like they could be straight out of a big budget studio film to the impressive cinematography, there is no denying that the film is brilliantly made. But all that would have been a waste if Davide Melini hadn’t penned a clever, tight screenplay and used all his skill as a director to orchestrate his talented team.

For those of you that haven’t heard of Melini before, he is an up and coming Italian director who, as well as directing 6 short films of his own, has worked as an assistant director on a few big TV series (Rome and Penny Dreadful) and a few features (including Mother (2007) with Italian legend Dario Argento).

I was very impressed with him. His use of real life news broadcasts to establish when the film was set (during the Bush administration) was a very effective choice and he showed incredible restraint not to spunk his big Lion reveal too soon, or show too much of it. This may have been partly down to budget restraints though, but it was still brilliantly done. I really wish other horror film makers would follow this lead and realise that horror fans don’t need to see the baddie to be afraid or need to know their back story to be a fan…

Another example of Melini’s “less is more” attitude is that the deaths all appear off camera. Normally, you might think it is a bit of a cop out, but on this occasion with the impressive sound effects over dubbed, it just works. And of course by taking the decision to not show the Lion until the end it allows the tension to build to a crescendo brilliantly.

One aspect where low budget short films usually let themselves down is in the acting department. The lack of budget means we usually get amateur dramatic levels of performance, but the three person cast in Lion wouldn’t look out of place in a bigger budget flick. Michael Segal’s portrayal of the abusive dad is without a doubt the standout though. He just reeks of aggression and violence, and I found myself just waiting for the moment he gets bumped off. Again, it’s another lesson horror film makers can learn; characterisers don’t have to be the usual ubiquitous over the top American teenager to hate them!

The only real negatives I can see in the film are the dubbing is a little out of sync with the actors’ mouths, but it’s not a massive issue. Also, for a 12 minute film, I felt 1 minute 40 seconds worth of opening credits, no matter how good they look, was a little much. But to be fair, I’m nit picking there…

To sum things up, this is a brilliantly made short film, by an immensely talented crew that I would love to see made into a feature. The franchise opportunities would be great too, with a different animal doing the killing. But for now we have a fantastic short creature feature that not only provides us with entertainment, but helps raise awareness of child abuse. And that’s not something you will see everyday!

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