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The real art to a good short film is how well it can immerse the viewer into the story while providing as much necessary detail as possible in the very limited time given. Success comes only to those that find a balance between staging the premise and using visuals to push us forward, stripping away the unessentials while still giving a story some depth. Message Received is a 10-minute short that does just that, engaging us quickly in a mystery that does more than pay off, it flips it on its ear.
Early in the morning, lying next to his sleeping wife, an anxious James (David Chin) gets a text message from an unknown sender asking if he has it. We don’t know what ‘it’ is but James says he does and is next told to get in his car and drive. He complies and is taken on a meandering journey to a location where he is meant to drop ‘it’ off, but when he gets there, is surprised to learn the deal he’s previously made has been altered. He’s forced to give in or else his wife (Danni Ai) is going to learn all about whatever ‘it’ is and that seems to be something James wants no part of. But there are more secrets than even he understands at play, and his day is only just starting to get twisted.
Written and directed by Stephen Herman, Message Received is an engaging little thriller that is all about the reveal, one that most won’t see coming as the script carefully leads the viewer down an expected path. James clearly did something wrong and we are meant to question his ethics and morality but also if whatever is being done to him is worthy. The payoff comes with a definite answer and in fact takes everything we learned – even our sympathies – and turns them in the other direction. It’s clever and effective. Herman uses texting as the film’s primary way to communicate, having no dialogue whatsoever and it works, mostly due to the short runtime. Most of the attention is on Chin, who does a good job convincing as he goes.
The ambiguity of the first half is nicely played out and when themes emerge in the second, they come with some surprise. We eventually meet a masked figure and here the films slips a little into some tiresome tropes, especially with that person tilting their head like a curious dog, something that is overplayed with these archetypes, and there is a pretty dominate continuity error concerning James and his gloves, but these are minor bumps in a story that is really rather compelling. Herman builds some decent suspense and delivers an ending that is well-earned. A genuinely intriguing effort, Message Received is well worth a look.
Message Received is open to the public and can be viewed below.
Movie description: Message Received is an independent short film about a man who it told to follow the instructions sent to his phone or his secret will be exposed.
Director(s): Stephen Herman
Actor(s): David Chin, Danni Ai