This devilish short from Rian Johnson shows equal parts fun and film knowledge.
Director Rian Johnson offers his latest film to theater audiences this weekend with Knives Out. Despite my feelings about his effort with The Last Jedi, I’ve seen nearly all of his films and really liked most of them. Looper and Brick are soft sci-fi classics, with a nice retro vibe. His first student film, Evil Demon Golfball from Hell, is much the same.
Instead of science fiction, Johnson borrows lots of clever tropes from B-movie morality tales. The kind of horror films that dominated drive-ins across the country in the 50s and 60s, where a ne’er do-well teen runs afoul of the supernatural due to his sinful ways. Except here the vengeance is doled out by a possessed golf ball. It gets weird…
Evil Demon Golfball from Hell (1996)
A rich man sits in his living room, bouncing a monogrammed golfball. He hears a young man, a thief, and goes for the phone but the young man shoots him. Amused by the golfball, he takes it with his other ill-gotten goods.
As he tries to arrange to fence the old man’s items, the golfball takes on a life of its own. At first it seems to just be following him, but then it begins to menace him. Soon, it threatens his very life, haunting his conscience with its rhythmic bouncing.
Play from the Rough.
One thing I love about Johnson’s work is his willingness to run down an idea. Sometimes those ideas get unworkable, but if there is a spark, he’ll usually stick out the premise through thick and thin. Sure, that leads to problems – the time travel in Looper gets very wonky; the resolution to Last Jedi feels more like a cool visual idea than a carefully planned climax. But he really sticks to his guns.
The Incredibly Strange Sports Gear that Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Genres.
Johnson liberally grabs from several genres to create his tale. The psychological tension is reminiscent of Hitchcock…a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever write about a demonic golfball. The delinquent teen drama feels a little bit James Dean, especially the driving sequences which feature some great camera work. The haunted conscience punctuated by the rhythmic bounce of the ball is straight Edgard Allan Poe.
That’s just the major themes. There’s noir elements in the lighting. The teen thief looks like he wandered in from a Kevin Smith film. There’s visual elements that call back to drive-in movie horror flicks, notable since they were coming back into fashion in the 1990s through the medium of music videos and kitschy shows like MST3K. For a short film, the finished product is long on film student trivia.
The Tell Tale Titleist.
Johnson’s short works, despite the hodgepodge of motifs. Actually, because of them. Many of those genres are perfectly suited to a student director, short on budget but long on ideas. Whether by design or by necessity, they all come from genres where being bold and direct mesh well with minimal effects.
All in all, I enjoyed this impish romp. It paces itself breathlessly so that the absurdity doesn’t ever derail the ride. With all of the smart allusions and stylistic adaptations, you get the feeling that Johnson will use anything and everything he can to capture his intended experience. The style, the emotional pitch, the storytelling, all flow. It’s available for the low price of free on DUST, so check it out.