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Stage Four Law

by Rabid Aunty Jean

Reviews

Rabid Aunty Jean at it again looking to take out every award under the sun.

Gorgeous cinematography as one would expect from this team, pristine sound and a rich, dreamy grade.

Powerhouse performance from Hamish in a more dramatic role than we're used to seeing him, from a batshit script and idea played dead straight.

I laughed, I cried, I felt a little bit hungry.

They're a force to be reckoned with. But we all knew that already.

Damn. Im baffled by this one.

Some really beautiful cinematography here, which is no surprise. King julian strikes again. Sounds great, looks great, and all the actors are great. The neighbor element was a bit clunky (I could be remembering it wrong, but I think he even says "Hi, its me....your neighbor...how are you holding up?")

Rabid Aunty Jean are kings at setting up a serious situation and creating a dark yet comedic twist at the end. However, this year they have done the opposite.

Making a """comedy""" film about sentient cancer is certainly a choice. I don't even know if you could call it a comedy, but it opens with a comedic reveal and it even has a few jokes, but it quickly starts to play it very straight, so im not really sure what to call it.

As the film goes on, it gets darker and darker until all the comedy is sucked out of it, and it's just a man grieving his dead wife in a real graveyard. I felt like I was losing my mind. I kept expecting some sort of joke or twist, but it never comes. Its a REAL downer of a film. I didn't watch it with a crowd, so I don't know what the reaction was to it.

Practically everyone in the country has had some sort of horrible experience with cancer, be it a loved one or relative. Its a horrible and traumatic thing to go through. And the older you get, the more people you see dealing with the fallout of cancer, the larger that trauma gets. Im sure this will tug at those heart strings and create a strong emotional response. It will probably make some people cry.

Its not the sort of film I would ever think of making for the 48 hours, but im fascinated to see how its recieved. I could be completely wrong here (as usual) and maybe everyone else will love how fresh and bold it is. This feels like a 'jumping the shark' moment for the competition. Im sure this will do well and probably win the city finals.

All the tech, acting, direction, choices - top notch as you’d expect.

But yeah, this short might end up being a polarizing and for one, it doesn’t sit well with me. And I think it’s largely because I’m not sure when I’m watching this if they’re playing it straight or taking the piss due to the farcical situation of having a cancer tumor being sued. Is it supposed to be cathartic? Providing empathy towards cancer sufferers and the people left behind? Is the whole thing some great metaphor? Or are we having a laugh here? I know when I saw the tumor for the first time that’s what I did as it was just ridiculous. As such I just found it hard to take any of it seriously. Maybe that is the point?
Such a well-made film though and no doubt finals bound. Personally, I just can’t vibe with it and probably just expected more to happen than the message of accepting that this kind of death is no one’s fault, and we should just let it go. Maybe not as powerful or emotionally connecting as the filmmakers thought it might be because again, I’m not certain on the seriousness of their intent.

Pretty good summaries above of the difficulties people have with this. I'd say we probably haven't scrutinised so harshly a film like this since TBALC days, back when they had won a couple of times and we really started to give the screws to them on their stories, perhaps unfairly? But that's part of the burden that comes with being a city winner and national finalist team I suppose! So I'm sure you guys have a thick enough skin to have seen some of this coming and be ready for it.

So with that being said, here is my most upfront take on it as a person in the room at Little A watching it live with about 40-50 other people.

Firstly, I am always in absolute awe of the craft of film making on display by this team, the camera work, the colour and sound, the performers etc. It's genuinely impressive - and expected, which is why the praise stops there for many of us.

Beyond the fact that it is the best film on a technical level, this was (at least from where I was sitting) the most uncomfortable film of the 85 I watched live with an audience. The moment that reveal of the tumor hit, everyone was dead silent, not knowing whether to laugh or not, and hoping to God that great jokes would come flying thick and fast to help us all relax - something that didn't happen. (Perhaps others in the room saw it differently, so if anyone else was there that night, please chime in!)

And then it was over, and I thought something that might sting a little to hear, which was 'huh, I guess that'll win...' so sorry to say it like that, but that's how I experienced it, I need to wash my hands after writing this.

All my love to you guys genuinely, perhaps you achieved exactly what you were hoping to and we've all just missed something - your staggering amount of top teir award noms would suggest that.

As always, a tour-de-force of directing, production, cinematography, and performance from Rabid Aunty Jean, and we are totally grading them on a curve after making several of the most flawless and well-rounded shorts the comp has ever seen, but still...I think the team made a massive tonal miscalculation on this one.

The core conceit is SO jokey, setting up for the kind of dark comedy this team is great at, but beyond that (very 48HOURS-y) initial reveal, the script just has no comedy, no jokes, no tips of the hat as to its intended tone. It keeps threatening to tip over into the bleakest, funniest thing you've ever seen, but then it just...doesn't. Ever. It's not even deadpan, it's just an earnest film about grief, but then that earnestness doesn't get a chance to sing thanks to the jokey conceit. If it had any sort of punchline, it'd be a dead-cert winner, possibly nationally; the way it is, it's just a little bit baffling. The utterly silent heats audience clearly wasn't sure what it was meant to be or how it was meant to be watched, and while that can be a good thing, I think it's a bad thing here.

Tone is hard, and hats off to RAJ for making a big fucking tonal swing with this one, but sadly I don't think the swing connected. I don't like giving negative reviews but I feel like this team is experienced enough to take it. Still, wouldn't be surprised to see it take out one of the top two spots in Christchurch.

First off, the story feels really heartfelt. Controversially, I thought that the concept of trying to sue cancer is brilliant. The theme of loss is tackled in a really sensitive, thematically cohesive way.
I think it’s a beautiful, poignant statement that closure can’t be achieved in the same way when you lose someone to diseases like cancer.

As a brain broken individual, I couldn’t help but notice something of a “sony look” to the image, with a whole lot of flat, grey shots with a whole lot of sharpness to them. I wonder if that decision made the whole thing feel a bit real for some people. Maybe a shallower depth of field, and more of a dreamlike grade could have softened that a little.

The film is tonally confusing. The initial reveal of the cancer blob seems geared towards a comedic reaction, while the performances strike an exquisite sombre note that sees the whole thing become a bit incongruent.

There is also the graveyard question. It made me pretty uncomfortable to see an actual graveyard used for this project. If it was a fake graveyard, that’s super impressive, and I’d love to hear that be the case. But in the meantime, I personally feel pretty troubled by that choice.

Overall, pretty great in a lot of ways, but falls short fairly dramatically in others.

Wanted to pop a few words in here to say I really enjoyed seeing this in the heats. I wasn’t a part of any audience, so that doesn’t play into my experience. I also haven’t seen it since, so forgive me I misremember anything.

My expectation of this team is to do some kind of dark twisted wacky comedy story, but this year you didn’t, and I really liked that. I liked how serious the tone is from the beginning and your main performer sells this really well.

I would have thought it a tonal clash if you did turn the thing into a big joke, but despite the initial concept being a funny idea, I didn’t read it as an attempt at comedy, but a really interesting personification of disease and death itself.

Honestly the only reason I was disappointed with this film is because it delivered such a familiar feeling… much of the same vibe visually to your previous films. Very good looking, but very still. Dialogue, performances, and cinematography are clearly your strengths so I can’t blame you for using them to make one of the most winnable short films of the competition. But once you’ve already achieved that success, I’d love to see you branch out into something less familiar to your comfortable strengths (although the physical design of the tumour was a great addition).
It’s a complicated feeling because I think the story direction was great, and it does suit the filmmaking style, but at the same time I would love to see the style developed further.

I’m just one guy who hasn’t even competed for the last few years, but I want to be surprised by Rabid Aunty Jean next year.

What I liked:
Gorgeous to look at - Hamish, Aaron and Phoebe may be the most photogenic people in the country, but even the cancerous tumour looks breathtaking in it's glorious close-ups. I had the pleasure of working with Ian and Julian recently and saw firsthand how even the simplest locations and sets can be elevated by impeccable cinematography, and that is on full display here.

What I didn't like:
Well well well looks like we have quite the controversial entry this year gang! Lots of discomfort around the subject matter and perhaps a "Lack of pay off", and while I did have similar thoughts on my first watch, I am of two minds now. I can totally understand expecting some kind of third act rug pull that has typically been a staple of 48Hours (including half a dozen films starring Hamish himself), and if you look at Rabid Aunty Jean's/Snack to the Future's city winning films, both of them are defined by their sick twists, and here we have a curious case where there is no sick twist, but the film itself makes some risky tonal decisions. From this perspective, I do feel slightly like I'm missing something - there's no scene where Hamish settles his case out of court and has a fist fight with the tumour, or devours it in blaze of disgusting glory, or anything like that, and as the credits roll I do find myself struggling to find closure. But upon several rewatches I do have another perspective, which leads me to...

Something else I liked:
...maybe that's the point. It's heavy stuff for 48Hours, but perhaps Aunty's thesis statement here is that cancer is not a force that can be reasoned with, it can't be sued, it can't be put on trial, and even if a tumour could understand your grief, it would not take the blame of the responsibility for what it has caused. Perhaps Stage Four Law is a film about acceptance, and an acknowledgement that holding onto hatred and resentment for a (usually) non sentient clump of cancerous cells is a fools errand that will only decay your own soul, and the key to moving on lies within yourself and the love of those around you.

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