The short film Ninety Seconds is a sci-fi thriller directed by Gerard Lough. It is set in the near future. The exact year is not given, but can be intuited to be 2017 or later. The film opens with a quote from George Orwell’s 1984: “The instrument could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.”
In this universe, there are private detectives, called “techs”, who have access to surveillance equipment similar to those used by intelligence agencies. People with enough money can hire these techs to invade other people’s privacy. The title Ninety Seconds refers to the average length of useful or incriminating evidence the lead character gets from hours of surveillance footage.
Mark (Andrew Norry) and his assistant Ralfi (Claire J. Blennerhassett) are techs hired by Mr. Philips (Michael Parle) to spy on the beautiful burlesque dancer Elly (Emma Eliza Regan). This get complicated when Mark develops a personal interest on Elly and begins to feel that other people are following him.
Here’s the complete short film (27 minutes long):
Ninety Seconds has a neo-noir feel and aesthetics. The world is not so far from our own world; in fact, it is not unbelievable that many of the technology presented in this movie already exist and are being tapped by those with power or money or both.
Compared to other films with similar themes, Ninety Seconds is more atmospheric and slow paced, with no fancy CGI or action sequences. The setting is close to the present and budget constraints were very much a hurdle in the creation of this short movie. As such, typical movie fans may feel a little underwhelmed, after a lifetime of seeing big-budgeted blockbuster sci-fi movies. The poster does not help either, as its look implies a lot more futuristic aesthetics we have come to expect but is not present in the movie itself.
One thing I dislike about Ninety Seconds is the dialogue. Some lines are so terribly cheesy or stilted that they are cringe-worthy. It seems like an annoying attempt to have quotable quotes for the film. A bit condescending to the viewers, in my opinion. We get lines like “Research has shown the more a person spends on the Internet, the more isolated they become” and “Well at least now you know the truth. Information is power, so they say”. Yes, yes, we get the message. No need to rub our face in it. The lines itself are not bad, but making the characters actually say them out loud feels awkward.
Nevertheless, this short film has several good points. The concept of a burlesque dance being performed in front of a giant screen that shows Nosferatu while a few men watch impassively in an almost empty theater adds an almost-surreal feel to the short film. There is also an interesting interplay of colors during the nighttime shots and the movie’s music is good as well. In terms of acting, Michael Parle shines as the mysterious and sinister-looking Mr. Philips.
Ninety Seconds is also able to communicate the pervasive sense of isolation and loneliness in the neo-noir landscape of Ninety Seconds. The characters talk and Mark and Ralfi have a good enough work relationship, yet there is still disconnectedness. The burlesque dance, something which should be sensual, is performed by an emotionless dancer to an equally emotionless audience. There is no sense of family and friendship is at most blurry, with distrust and betrayal all around. People do things but no one seems to be happy, with Mark feeling like a cog in the machine at the end of the film.