The place is a quiet gas station. Aisle after aisle lined with every imaginable way you can brand garbage, only edible in the sense that you can eat it and not die at the specific moment of digestion. Behind the counter is a man past his prime—if he ever had one—sniffing what looks to be glue or something like it, most certainly designed with a different function in mind. This would be Elmer (Russ Kingston).
A young punk (Mark Wood) rudely interrupts Elmer’s glue sniffing by pointing a gun through the plastic screen, making clear with his over-excited expression that, yes, this is indeed a robbery. Just when the young punk is at his most confident, the old man hits a button, and a guillotine falls from the top of the plastic screen and chops off the young punk’s hand.
“…when the young punk is at his most confident…a guillotine falls…”
After the young punk makes a break for it, realizing in the most unpleasant of ways that he chose the wrong gas station, Elmer apathetically tosses the severed hand into a cardboard box of severed hands – every shade is represented, lest there be any question of Elmer’s biases – and the gun into a cardboard box of guns. This is his life, and he’s settled in. But something is different this time. Elmer decides to leave his post and track the young punk down. He needs something more from the young punk than just a severed hand can provide. For once in Elmer’s life, the guillotine won’t cut it.
Coming in at less than seven minutes, Guillotine Guys, written and directed by James Ricardo, does what the best short stories do: it teases and insinuates what it doesn’t have the time to cover. After being pulled in by Elmer’s high-concept punishment, we quickly learn more about his life and his philosophy, without ever being told anything outright. This kind of restraint is rare in films, as writers are typically a little too excited to spill out everything in their head and, as a result, the audience’s impatience runneth over.
However, while Ricardo does admirable work telling his story, the story itself doesn’t warrant telling. It’s simple to a fault. Other than the obvious, there’s not enough to Elmer and the young punk’s relationship to give sufficient meaning to everything that comes before. A story and a history are teased, but it’s not a particularly novel one.
Not all film need to be deeper than a puddle of severed hand blood, but they would be the better for it. Even though it shortchanges its concept and characters, Guillotine Guys exhibits enough style and cool-headed storytelling to warrant more than seven minutes of your time.
Guillotine Guys (2018) Written and directed by James Ricardo. Starring Russ Kingston, Mark Wood, J.C. Macek III.
6 out of 10 stars