Short Series Review: Chad, Matt & Rob The Interactive Adventures.
Choose your own adventure on YouTube with the directors behind this weekend’s thriller, Ready or Not.
I always like to get acquainted with the catalog of unfamiliar directors. Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin are the directing duo behind the dark comedy/thriller Ready or Not, as well as collaborators on the anthology collection V/H/S. Before all of that, they published a series of short films on YouTube alongside Chad Villella and Rob Polonsky. These Interactive Adventures were short films spliced so you could make plot choices by selecting the next video in the playlist. I decided to jump aboard and check the shorts out.
Chad, Matt & Rob: The Interactive Adventures.
The audience has to help three bumbling friends stay alive as they navigate such crazy situations as a time machine in their office break room, an alien teleporter interrupting their pool party, and a vicious treasure hunter (Alfonso Arua, the Three Amigo’s El Guapo!) kidnapping them to find a mysterious relic.
Short 1: The Time Machine (2009).
Chad and Matt are worried because their accident prone friend Rob is late for a meeting that could get them all fired. Rob appears and claims to have traveled through time…in a pair of Rubbermaid trash bins. Chad and Matt think he’s crazy, but a squad of goons from out of the Matrix arrive and force them to jump to the past and future to avoid certain death.
The acting, video quality, and pacing of this short is, well, not great. Lots of people talking over each other or repeating what the last guy just said. The fights look bad as well. But…you know what, it’s fast, fun, and charmingly weird. Rob winds up being this magical hedgehog of a character whose blithe acceptance of absurdity and childish glee for adventure endears him to you. I can see why the series ended when Rob left the team.
It’s got issues, but as a template and proof of concept, the short works. While the choices are binary and you can usually spot the bad choice by it being much shorter than the good choice, the bad choices end up being so absurdly fun that I made sure to check out each path.
Short 2: The Murder (2009).
While filming an indie super hero movie, our three buddies spot a crime in progress – the gruesome serial killer The Princess Killer, with his latest victim. Each has different ideas about how to deal with their discovery.
I was not really much into this one. Rob gets demoted to just a normal guy, instead of the magic/trouble magnet he was in the first and becomes for the rest of the series. We get parts with three branches, but they’re not terribly interesting.
The structure seems more robust, but the dialogue and acting is actually more distracting this time out. I didn’t make it to the end of the short as too many misfires on the branching paths evaporated what little interest I had in the story.
Short 3: The Birthday Party (2010).
On their way to an office birthday party, gangbangers ambush the trio. Rob apparently didn’t know the difference between “borrowing” their money and “stealing” it. Running for their lives lands them in a haunted insane asylum and a gang turf war.
For my money, this short is the pinnacle of what the series could do. The visual quality is way better. We get CG monsters, practical effects during a car chase/shoot out, and good cinematography across varied locations. Each branch is long enough to feel justified, but not so long that it wears out its welcome. The supporting cast feels fleshed out, and we’ve got consistent characterization for our three protagonists.
This was around the time Tyler Gillett joined the team to co-direct, and seems to have brought a lot of polish to the effort. It also seems the group’s popularity allowed them to invest in the script, effects, and locations. It’s no surprise that Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin went on to make horror films next, as the bit in the asylum was very effective.
Short 4: The Teleporter (2010).
Matt tries to organize a surprise pool party for Chad, but is interrupted when Rob appears out of nowhere with an alien device that runs on Axe body wash. The angry aliens are not far behind.
This short was sponsored by Axe, and it shows. The teleporter works on the three new Axe products for fuel, giving you three choices based on the scents. Each choice has a good and bad ending, so there’s not really one intended path. Some lamp-shading of the product keeps it out of egregious sell-out territory, but the story suffers.
What doesn’t suffer is the effects. The visuals keep improving, and we get fun sequences such as a speedboat chase and a laser gun shootout on an alien planet. Overall, it feels a bit like they got the money to make a more polished version of The Time Machine, at the cost of shoe-horning in product placements that handicap the flow of the story.
Short 5: The Treasure Hunt (2011).
Rob shows up at the office with an ancient treasure map. Knowing how this will likely end up, Chad and Matt promptly feed the map to the office shredder. A treasure hunter (Alfonso Arau) kidnaps them anyway and forces them to lead the expedition from their memories of the map.
I have mixed feelings about The Treasure Hunt. Cinematically, it is the most accomplished of the shorts. This feels like a mini-movie, with polished effects, on-location shots, and a solid treasure hunting story. The cast is great, especially Alfonso Arau, who has all of the delightful charm and menace of his character from Three Amigos, and steals every scene he’s in. On the other hand…
Being a good short film works against the Interactive Adventure format in a couple ways. First, the sequences are much longer; this makes it easy to spot the good path, and makes you anxious to get to the next choice. If you’re enjoying the story, which I was, then the choices cut the other way; you get interruptions just as the drama is ramping up and it pulls you out of the film. I’d like to see a cut of this where you just see the intended paths without gaps or pauses.
Interactivity for the Win?
I liked these shorts in principle, and, for The Birthday Party, I loved it in practice. The fun atmosphere gets to be infectious once the character types had been nailed down, and the constant improvement in technical chops made them good as shorts and not just as gimmicks. That being said, I can see how the team outgrew them.
Having adventurously interacted with Chad, Matt & Rob, I’m even more anxious to check out their latest film, and to catch up with the two horror anthologies in their catalogue: V/H/S and Southbound (a film I’ve been meaning to review since I gave it a thumbs up three years ago!)