Aldous Huxley guides us into the mystical world created in Chris Esper's latest short film Undertaker, a black-and-white film in which nothing is truly quite black-and-white. The 10-minute film features Dustin Teuber as a self-identified undertaker who inexplicably awakens beside a set of railroad tracks with only Justin Thibault's Passenger alongside him seemingly waiting.
Waiting for what?
The two converse. It is apparent that this Passenger understands something that our dear Undertaker does not.
So begins a journey that is both mundane and extraordinary, simple yet difficult to understand.
Undertaker moves forward, a nearby diner the perfect place to get a cup of coffee. Preferably decaf. The Waiter (Michael Lepore) serves coffee and more. A mysterious woman (Jen Drummond) also seems to see something that this Undertaker, well-meaning yet misdirected, simply cannot yet see.
Finally, there is Kris Salvi's Driver, a matter-of-fact chap whose certainty seems to spark the Undertaker's awareness that he is not who he thinks he is and he is not where he needs to be.
It is time to be someone else. It is time to go somewhere else.
Thoughtful and meditative, Undertaker is most likely not a film for the casual cineaste, a moviegoer who demands a paint-by-number storyline or a straightforward narrative arc. For those seeking something a little more thoughtful, however, Undertaker is a sublime experience that demands introspection and universal awareness.
Esper has never been afraid to tackle complex, edgy material even within the confines of low-budget filmmaking. It's a difficult task that Esper consistently tackles with tremendous success. The same is true with Undertaker, a film that's complex and difficult yet nicely brought to life by Esper, Kris Salvi's smart and aware script, and an ensemble cast that gets where the film is going even when the audience doesn't.
Steven Lanning-Cafaro's original music is mystically tinged with Twilight Zone notes yet with a beauty all its own. Gabrielle Rosson's production design is expertly realized while Colin Munson's lensing is subtle and inspired.
The ensemble cast is uniformly strong, Teuber appropriately immersed within this story and each person along his journey appropriately assembling the building blocks toward greater awareness. Jen Drummond is a true stand-out, though there's no weak link here and the consistency is truly key in convincingly pulling off a film that could have easily been, well, derailed.
Currently on its indie fest journey, Undertaker is bold, thoughtful cinema and if you get a chance you should definitely check it out.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic