Ed. note– “RAPT” is currently unavailable, but the producer and director would love to hear from you if you’re interested in buying a copy. Contact Tom Ryan and Russell Hackett with any queries about how to purchase thru the short’s Facebook page.– P.F.
The relationship between artist and critic has long taken its toll on the artist. Pouring all his love, energy and passion into art only to have a critic deride it can be soul crushing. Especially in the internet age, when anybody with a smart phone and wifi can spew out anything unchecked, be it knowledgeable or uninformed. Tom Ryan’s short film “RAPT” takes a look at what happens when a shunned filmmaker gets reactionary and attacks back. It’s entertaining at points, but the overall message left me confused.
When the Filmmaker screens his slasher 16 STAIRS TO DEATH at an almost empty film festival in a log cabin, the audience either falls asleep or walks out. All except the Horror Pro, an internet troll who holds some sway over horror fans, but he’s just hanging around to see what a trainwreck the flick is. After overhearing some poor fan reaction outside the cabin and reading the Pro’s venomous review online, the Filmmaker decides to make a follow-up that’s a little more cinema vérité , at the expense of those who shunned his work.
“RAPT” starts off as a nice riff on the topic of film critique, casting its eye on an internet jerk whose talents don’t go beyond speaking the obvious and being an asshole; and on the shunned filmmaker, who’s likely given his all to making his film. Jerry Janda is great as the Horror Pro, who’s mouthy and arrogant, full of bluster because devotees of these sorts of screenings know who he is and will buy him beer. This is the guy, I can easily extrapolate, who starts Twitter wars and sits back and smiles as the net burns. He’s a great antagonist, and Janda, who also wrote the script, really sells him.
The problems begin with the Filmmaker. Instead of some incredibly energetic guy who’s burning to get his passion project before the eyes of the world, Russell Hackett plays him as a lethargic burnout whose immediate reaction to all the negativity is apathy. Some tweaks to the performance, even with the same dialogue intact, would’ve put my sympathies more in line with the protagonist. As it stands, I don’t really care of him or his plight. It’s telling that neither he nor the Horror Pro have names, as the latter is an anonymous jerk defined by his “profession,” and the former is so nondescript as not to merit one.
The shift in the middle also doesn’t work for me. I’ve invested in plenty of revenge tales where the vengeance is merited (just look at some of the works of Edgar Allen Poe), but “RAPT” wants me to root for a guy who would kill loudmouths over a film. The Horror Pro is clearly intended to be the villain here, but that’s ironic; the Filmmaker turns violent over his critique, but once the Pro gives him pointers on all the stuff wrong with his new footage, every criticism the Pro makes is accurate, if obnoxiously put. There’s a lot of gray area involved in eliciting my sympathies, and so this becomes one of those flicks where I can’t root for anybody. And those flicks where I can’t root for anybody are always gutshot for me. Though I can see where fans of slashers and haters of trolls will love the scene of the Pro’s comeuppance.
Where “RAPT” works is as a critique on just how much prominence we put on other people’s opinions. I know folks who live by Rotten Tomatoes scores, and will choose whether to go to a movie based on them. As a society, many of us let others dictate what we eat and drink, what we wear and the company we keep. But hey, I just wrote a piece on the Slayer song “Repentless” today, praising the band for going its own path and its defiance in the face of what others think of them. And I’m more in line with that. And if you choose to throw out what I say about “RAPT” or any other flick I’ve reviewed, I’ll just say that I write the most informed critiques I can, shaded by my own likes and influences, and you’re free to do as you please. But if you want to put any stock in my words, I’ll say “RAPT” works on that level.
If you give “RAPT” a look, make sure to hang around past the credits. There’s a hilarious end credits sequence that had me laughing so hard my stomach hurt. If the rest of the short had been infused with the same humor, I’d likely have loved it.
It’s hard enough being an artist. Nobody understands him, and he has to turn to creation to fill in some hole in his essence. It’s even harder when faceless jerks who have no talent of their own can hide behind keyboards and jab at those who create. “RAPT” has its heart in the right place, even if it doesn’t quite achieve all it could have. Having now posted this review, I’ll be sleeping lightly, just in case Tom Ryan and Jerry Janda have an, ahem, axe to grind with me.