Few modern directors have such a distinctive, visceral style as Adam Mason, and it’s fair to say that I’ve taken a keen interest in his career so far: over the years I’ve reviewed his feature films Blood River, Pig, Luster, Junkie, and Hangman, and also interviewed Adam (together with collaborator Simon Boyes). I’ve always felt excited and challenged by his work. So obviously, when I got the opportunity to take a look at his brand new short film, Empire of Dirt, I jumped at it.
Rather than a straightforward stand-alone short film, Empire of Dirt is intended to introduce characters and themes which will be explored fully in a feature-length offering. As such, no time is wasted: we’re shown, briefly, that these events are taking place in Manilla, 1997, and then we’re straight in to a frantic shootout, followed by a skirmish in a dilapidated building. It seems as though our protagonist is coming to the aid of a desperate, terrified woman, at least on first impressions: whatever his loyalty to her is, he pitches himself into some gritty, bloody and physical action, killing those he finds, with the violence happening both on and off screen. It’s a testament to Mason’s directorial abilities here that, even in a few short minutes, you feel as disturbed by the violence taking place off-screen as you do the violence in front of you.
However, any resolution to all of this is withheld: the film executes a radical shift, revealing to us that there is far more here than meets the eye. Our main character is acting under duress; supernatural elements are briefly introduced and we see enough to appreciate that that this isn’t some standard hitman, and the girl he’s saving? The first glance didn’t reveal everything about her, and she isn’t what she seems to be. Quickly, the film moves from its harsh realism into nightmare.
As a taster of a potentially full-length film, Empire of Dirt merges enough of the raw and the bizarre to suggest a deeply-intriguing and engaging tale could follow. It is full of that vivid claustrophobia which Mason does so well, and it looks superb, with strong palates of reds, blues and greens. The resonant music keeps up the emotional weight throughout, and the introduction of those otherworldly elements, even in a few short minutes, raises the tension of the film to an almost unbearable level, suggesting that we can expect a particularly grisly spin on haunting, conscience and revenge. I’m certainly curious…
There’s a great deal within Empire of Dirt which would reward development into a feature length format, and I look forward to being able to comment on the whole story.