Short Film Review: Dust

Dust 2015
Dust is a short film by Emblem Lab. Reviewed by Nathan Worcester for Deluxe Video Online

Short Film Review: Dust

Dust is a small film with big ambitions. Equal parts action and horror, it tells a tale 9 years in the making. Is it worth the wait?

I have a confession to make: sometimes I don’t like watching movies. Movies for me are appointment events, something I usually have to build up some steam to see. Dedicating a few hours, 15 bucks, and having to sit next to people I don’t know is sometimes off-putting. The website Vox did a feature on an independent short named Dust and it piqued my curiosity. Could a film manage feature length entertainment at a brisk 25 minute run-time?

Dust (2016)

Dust’s tale begins in a future where the balance between man and nature has been forgotten. Mankind, in love with it’s technological mastery, has sealed itself off in massive walled cities. Trackers, once the spiritual bridge between man and the land, have become social pariahs, trading and scouting outside the walls for a living.

I’m sure an airborne plague will totally not make it past those walls. Good thinking.

When a mysterious dust-borne plague begins to ravage mankind it is up to a disgraced Tracker named Irezumi to find a cure. Time is not on his side, however. The walled city of Kabe is seeking to shut its gates for good and forsake those who live outside the wall to die.

A Labor of Love

Dust is the brain child of a trio of filmmakers: Jason Gallaty, Josh and Mike Grier. To tell this tale they formed a VFX studio (Ember Lab) and created a kickstarter campaign. It was successfully funded, and 9 years later Dust began to make the rounds at movie festivals and comic-cons. Dust was released to watch for free 6 month ago on Vimeo.

Beauty in Desolation

Shikoku Japan
The movie is a joy to look at.

Ember Lab honed their craft in CGI doing work for companies like Machinima and Coca-Cola, and it is quite good for a film that cost $100,000 to make. This post apocalyptic tale shows heavy influences from directors Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalker) and Hayao Miyazaki (Mononoke Hime). The juxtaposition of the human cities with the untamed wild is both well-worn and well done. Dust was shot on location in the Valleys of Japan, and the vistas are breathtaking.

The Professional?

The acting is well done, if hampered by a bare-bones plot and rushed pacing. Masashi Odate is Irezumi, a Stalker. What do Stalkers do? A lot of questionably applied herbal medicine combined with a piss poor job of tracking ingredients down. From poisoning his dying daughter to taking laughably inappropriate safety precautions, it’s pretty safe to say that Irezumi is not the best there is at what he does. I’m not that surprised that humanity has turned its back on Stalkers.

You only give your daughter glowing water if she is dying of “not being a Ninja Turtle“.


I did mention horror and action, right?

“Don’t worry. The clerk at the “rags to wear on your face” store told me these are totally plague proof.”

After an expository flashback induced by inhaling a plague (no biggie), we get to the climax. Ember Lab is a VFX company, and they just couldn’t resist making their disease vector a CGI monster. While it gives us a good dose of creepiness and action, it didn’t really seem like all that coherent a plot twist. Whatever, Odate has sweet high tension wires for forearms, and the final throw down was entertaining.


A Pretty Little Trifle

This film is a gorgeously shot, competently edited tech demo. It just doesn’t have enough behind it to really elevate all the well done parts into a coherent whole. I can’t quite pin down if having a slightly longer run-time would have solved it, or if the writing was going to torpedo it at any length. It’s not horrible though, and the short length of the film actually pardoned a lot of the films flaws. You never have to dwell on anything too long.

Considering the next film in my review queue is two and a half hours long, this was a nice little diversion. It didn’t answer if short films can be as good a feature length films in the affirmative, but what it does well is beautiful. If you want to give the film a view, it’s available for free here.


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