I couldn't help but think of Lars and the Real Girl in the opening moments of Marc Cartwright's deceptively warm yet gleefully dark thriller short We Die Alone, a film starring Baker Chase Powell in what should be a star-making turn as the adorably awkward but potentially more Aidan.
Aidan comes off as a sort of puppy dog endearing type, his gentle enthusiasm and obvious desire to be loved equalled only by his nervous tics and social awkwardness around anything resembling a woman. Like many, he functions just fine on social media sites where he can pretend he's something he's not but every time someone moves closer to actually meeting Aidan backs off and regresses into nervous histrionics.
The lone exception seems to be with Elaine (Ashley Jones, The Bold and the Beautiful), a friendly co-worker whose adoration for Aidan is obvious even if he himself can't seem to see it. Instead, a brief encounter with an attractive locked out neighbor, Chelsea (Samantha Boscarino), and the discovery of a mutual love for puzzles leads to a "date" of sorts but, as we've all learned a time or two, sometimes not everyone's quite on the same page when it comes to something as simple as a date.
Co-written by Cartwright with Cassie Keet, We Die Alone struck me time and again as practically a polar opposite to Lars and the Real Girl.
What if Lars had another side to him?
What if the entire town didn't embrace this weirdo?
What if his inappropriate overtures were taken, well, inappropriately?
Cartwright and Keet rather seem to enter this "what if" world with this absolutely delightful, in a dreadful sort of way, thriller short that takes more than a few twists and turns in its nearly 25-minute running time. Gabriel Gely's lensing toys with us just as much as the script that lulls us into a false sense of safety before winding its way toward an uncomfortably demented climax that leaves one breathless and talking about the ending long after the closing credits have scrolled on by. The original score by David Williams is vibrant and creative, while Cartwright's own editing for the film allows us to linger on facial expressions and unexpected actions that leave us going "WTF? Are they really going to do that?"
Yep, they really are.
We Die Alone refreshingly leaves us guessing as the story winds down, loose ends left loose and unanswered questions left unanswered. It's a thought-provoking film that could easily be, and probably should be, a feature film.
In addition to Chase Baker Powell's stellar performance, Samantha Boscarino shines as Chelsea, whose role as the literal "girl next door" left me longing for the days of internet dating. Boscarino could have easily taken this role over the top, but wisely avoids another winking in favor of a quietly dark, jarringly normal turn. Ashley Jones is so wonderful as Elaine that you'll find yourself wanting Aidan to realize her affection for the film's entire running time, an emotional investment that pays off as the film's story winds down and you anxiously anticipate the next moment and then the next.
After a successful festival run, We Die Alone is now available on both Vimeo on Demand and Amazon Prime. A definite winner for fans of indie suspense/thrillers, Marc Cartwright accomplishes more with a 25-minute short than a good majority of filmmakers do with a feature film.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic