An excellent surprise…
A fearless actor carries a dramatic horror
In 2002, Colin Farrell agreed to play the part of Stu in Joel Schumacher’s PHONE BOOTH. Apparently, other more renowned actors (for the time) turned down the role because the majority of the film rested upon that character’s shoulders. However, in 2010, Rodrigo Cortés intense thriller, BURIED, had Ryan Reynolds boarded up in a coffin – and that’s all we see for 95 minutes. Talk about carrying a film! Now, we see that triumph again in the short dramatic horror, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW (2013) where actor Owen McCuen stands tall for 25 minutes.
Written by Kyle Schiffert, who co-directed with Ryan Fox, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW follows Joe (McCuen) who resides in eastern-Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley during the spread of a zombie virus. The problem: Joe may be infected and has but hours to live.
PHONE BOOTH had ancillary characters an action, but BURIED had to rely on Reynolds and the suspense surrounding claustrophobia and asphyxiation.
LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW offers something different. Yes, the suspense is certainly there, but this is also a character study that may have more resonance than the aforementioned features. After all, Stu’s a jerk, and Reynolds’ character has no control over his circumstances. Joe, however, has options as he moves ever closer to that time where he’s either turned or remains a fully functioning part of humanity.
His wife and child are safe at another location. It’s just Joe, a beer, an empty house – and a ton of thoughts. It’s as if he’s stuck at the doctor’s office waiting for life or death test results. Joe combats the boredom by maintaining an active mind. He doesn’t talk to himself, but the voiceover narration keeps us aware of what’s happening, and why Joe feels the way he does. But this is far from “telling” in lieu of “showing.” Joe’s simply occupying his brain so he doesn’t have to think too much. It’s not that he’ll just lose a family and a life, but there’s the strong possibility that he’ll become “the other” – the outsider that must be destroyed. He could completely lose himself as a person, and never find his way back. To die is one thing, to become the hated undead is another.
The look of LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW matches Joe’s mood. The colors are washed out, at times monochromatic (think 2011’s THE DAY). These muted tones are reminiscent of a moribund world – the world Joe sees himself fading into. Moreover, as the film progresses to its ultimate conclusion, Joe’s narration fades along with the color. The countdown to whether he’ll remain human or turned into a walker is palpable – and with something so vital on Joe’s mind, there’s probably nothing but a steady buzz in his ears.
Owen McCuen delivers Joe to us as the nice guy at work we’d probably go to lunch with on occasion. He’s not violent or pushy, just a responsible man doing the nine to five so his family can have food, clothing, and shelter. Hell, he’s a “regular guy” otherwise he wouldn’t be named Joe. In this sense, he’s the anti-hero – the average person forced to stand tall in an extraordinary situation even though they really don’t want to. And don’t think you’ll see a stiff actor sighing and crying for a half-hour. McCuen delivers a fabulous performance with subtle body language, those “little things” that separate genuine actors from those who don’t know any better. His performance is strong, compelling, and ultimately impressive. And his actions can conjure the occasional snicker from the audience or even the coming of tears.
With the look and acting squared away, Kyle Steele’s music is the exclamation point for atmosphere. The score is haunting and often serves as something lurking in the background to keep us unnerved.
If LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW has any issues, they consist of one panning shot where the camera seemed to start and stop in increments. And the other is the titles. Courier may be the international font of choice for screenplays, but that doesn’t mean we need to see it on the screen. Additionally, the colors used in the titles are too bold and bright, failing to match the boldness of the film. Both are easy fixes.
Right now, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW is making its way through the festival circuit. This means you won’t be able to view the short in a public venue for the time being. However, you can see the trailer here: http://www.ttbop.com/like-theres-no-tomorrow.html and even purchase a digital copy or a deluxe DVD if you so desire.
Owen McCuen is currently working with the Time to Back Out Productions’ team of Schiffert and Fox on their latest venture, the feature thriller DESOLATION, which is in post-production.
Don’t miss this excellent short film. And definitely remember Owen McCuen’s name. I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more of him in the future.
4 out of 5 stars
(Poster photo from Kickstarter. Owen McCuen photo from Stage32.)