Review: Cambridge Shorts

Amelia Oakley 18 May 2016

Cinecam, Cambridge’s short film society, isn’t often granted a platform quite like an ADC slot, but the enormous success of the films premiered this week means we can expect to see a lot more of them and their work. The format of the night contributed to its friendly, organic cinema vibe as one of the actors introduced each film to an extremely enthusiastic audience, finally announcing something that even society members didn’t yet know: that Cambridge Shorts will be back next term. 

The first film, 'OUTSIDERS', follows a group of teenagers on a camp that aims to teach them how to be cool. There are some very amusing moments and characters that everyone will recognise, such as the ‘lad’ who desperately tries to convince everyone of his popularity, and the hazy cinematography when the group gets drunk is cleverly done. Rebecca Thomas as the group leader is suitably sinister and the direction is generally strong, but overall the piece suffered a bit of an identity crisis. I was left wondering exactly what point the film was trying to make (beyond the obvious that being ‘cool’ doesn’t make you a good, or happy person) because it flitted through humour and sincerity too sporadically. 

The second film, 'Owl #307', like 'OUTSIDERS' was disappointingly predictable: from the moment it was introduced as a film about isolation it was clear that it was going to be a Bell Jar-esque piece on depression and entrapment within a single room. Despite this, it did throw out some interesting questions about absent characters, and it also had the best cinematography of all the films. The mood was pitched by choice of music and emphasis on colour, and delicate close-ups of a spider trapped beneath a wine-glass stood out as a powerful visual metaphor, making the tone of the piece memorable. 

'Prelude', the third film, was the most ambitious and could easily have been spun into a full two hours. Set inside a theatre, in which the actors, musicians and costume-makers are trapped due to the revolution raging on the streets outside, it took an unflinching look at human nature under duress and the desire for survival — at any cost. The set was more elaborate than in the other films and the finished product highly professional, although the acting was a bit hit and miss, and the multiple plot strands needed more time to properly unfold. 

The next film, 'Clive', was hilarious but it wasn’t really a film. It wasn’t even the first episode of a TV show (as it claimed to be) but a couple of unrelated sketches experimenting with its character, Clive Benderman. It’s one to watch in future, however, because despite the concept being all too familiar in film (extremely awkward male attempts to interact with women) it re-energised the theme with brilliant characterisation and a very funny script. I’m glad that the director intends to make more of 'Clive' and turn the concept into a TV show. 

The final film, 'Tachyon', was the night’s crème de la crème. A perfect blend of sci-fi and thriller, the whole audience were gripped as a particle physicist and the man filming her become trapped in a basement — with only the sinister messages on her time machine for company. The direction was brilliant and the plot scarily believable as it was based in real science: I think I speak for everyone when I say that I was literally on the edge of my seat throughout. This too is a film that could easily be made feature-length, although it also worked brilliantly as a short. 

My introduction to Cambridge’s short film scene has left me incredibly excited for the second instalment: Cambridge Shorts is the beginning of a new major player in the arts scene, and all five films I witnessed demonstrated enormous talent.