REVIEW: Opus Dei
– By Allan Lear
The received wisdom is that the short form can be tricky. It’s true that it takes a particular discipline to master any form, and that the short form requires even more discipline because you have to pull off all the manoeuvres of a good story without so much elbow room.
But one of the reasons the short form gets a bad rap is because it is, by its very nature, cheaper. Sometimes it’s less effort, too. A writer who can’t be arsed to churn out a novel, or who doesn’t have enough material, will bang out a short story. A film-maker who’s woefully underfunded will shear down his dream project until it’s ten minutes long (and then, if he’s George Lucas or some other form of lunatic, do it all again over the course of sixteen hours when, as an older, stranger man, he gets the budget).
These shrink-to-fit projects are easily identifiable, because they don’t work. At all. Like Procrustes’ houseguests, they come out all lopsided and wonky, limping along on phantom limbs, amnesically groping for explanatory dialogue long since cut down to a hasty babble of disconnected words.
By contrast, when something is written specifically for a short form, you can tell at a glance. Tight, compact, efficient, a dedicated short form story brings all the impact of a long tale but delivers it in a fraction of the time. It’s like the difference between being run over by twenty Ford Anglias or one Challenger tank.
Opus Dei is a Challenger tank. Its run time clocks in a nearly nine minutes, but three minutes of those are credits. Half a minute is a whispered Lord’s Prayer in the opening sequence. The remaining six minutes are like Christopher Nolan’s Memento retold in haiku form. It starts in media res, with two people saying bewildering things, and then in the last three shots the director smacks you over the head with the context and everything falls into place.
I can’t tell you much about the story, because when a story’s this tightly-written there isn’t much you can share without spoiling. If you see it on Vimeo, don’t even read the synopsis; it won’t ruin your enjoyment or dismantle the mystery, it’s just total gobbledegook, because you can’t sum up this story without rendering it moot. It’s not about those stupid albino monks from The da Vinci Code, that’s all I can tell you. It’s a two-hander, starring Tom Driver as a priest and Tim C Hudson as a policeman. Driver has most of the work to do, and he is effortlessly compelling, with a beautifully-judged performance that reminds me of a young Arthur Lowe. Hudson has less to do and does it well. George Najdzien wrote it and deserves to feel pretty pleased with himself.
Actually, do you know what I’d do with this film? I’d plug it into M Night Shyalaman’s spinal column and make him watch it until he understood that a good twist explains a film, rather than negating it.
Opus Dei was produced by Suspiric Noir and I have a long train journey tomorrow which I will beguile away by watching more of their projects, should Virgin Trains wi-fi feel like cooperating for once, because this is excellent short-form material and I want to see much more of it. If this is their usual standard of short film then they can only be an underappreciated national treasure, like Steve Aylett or the RNLI or, er, me.
– By Allan Lear
Watch Opus Dei right here: