Sounds a little silly to bring this up, but short films are a lot like jokes. You have a set-up and a punch line. This is obvious in the comedy short, but it’s just as true in the thriller. As the short begins, we’re presented with a location or a situation. Then during the set-up, clues are dropped for the audience as filmmakers engage us in this exercise of where am I leading you and once you figure it out, there’s an ending zinger of sorts. Success in the thriller category is judged on how engaged we are with the set-up and then how satisfying the punch line ties everything together.
Writer/director/actor Cameron McHarg sets up his little thriller short, Deer Season, as two long-time friends reunite for a one-day hunting trip. The short opens with Mike (Hus Miller) driving his friend, Blaine (Cameron McHarg) deep into a mountainous forest in his truck for some gun fun and a chance to catch up.
“Two guys in a pickup truck going into the deep forest, alone and with guns. What could go wrong?”
Rather than being blatant about some kind of linear narrative, McHarg is intentionally vague about where his story is taking us. Two guys in a pickup truck going into the deep forest, alone and with guns. What could go wrong? Now comes the presentation of clues as Blaine pulls down his knit cap revealing it’s a ski-mask. Soon Mike sings an impromptu song he made up about his wife and kids.
To say anything more beyond this would betray its ending, but in its simplicity Deer Season succeeds as a well-made short, first in its set-up. McHarg forces you to engage with the story he tells because you know something’s about to happen, you just don’t know what, how, why, or when. Then he ends with a punchline that packs a punch.
Deer Season is beautifully shot in the woods of Washington state and makes the most of its two actors, a truck, two guns, and a case of beer.
Deer Season (2018) Written and directed by Cameron McHarg. Starring Cameron McHarg, Hus Miller.
7.5 out of 10 stars