In Juri Ferri’s short film UB-13, you know right off the bat that it’s a student film because the title “London Film School” appears right from the get-go. Knowing it’s a student film ahead of time, you assume a few things (whether true or not). First, UB-13 has a limited budget. Second, the filmmakers are “in training.” Three, a great deal of heart and effort will go into the final product from everyone involved.
A beleaguered German WWII submarine crew has a final chance to cause severe damage to an unsuspecting Allied convoy. Against the advice of his helmsman Johannes (Atilla Akinci), who feels the crew is strained and overworked and the sub has only one torpedo left, Captain Arthur Metz (Dan Anderson) insists it would not look good if the crew returned to port without achieving anything on this tour.
Opportunity presents itself when an Allied torpedo boat comes within range of the submarine. The captain orders the torpedo to be fired, but sadly misses its target. Revealing its presence, the hunt for the sub and its crew commences. The captain sets the sub down on the ocean floor, and his crew must remain silent in hopes the enemy vessels will give up their search and leave.
“A beleaguered German WWII submarine crew has a final chance to cause severe damage to an unsuspecting Allied convoy.”
The heart of the short film is the silent moments where the crew waits for the danger to pass. Unable to do anything, the members of the crew must remain quiet and sit there with thoughts of dying swirling obsessively in their heads. They are literal sitting ducks with everything building to a tense moment, in the end, risking everyone’s life.
Let’s start by saying overall UB-13 is an excellent short film. It’s not perfect with elements that work and elements that don’t. Let’s start with its weakness and end on a good note. First, the crew built a set that is passable as a submarine. It clearly isn’t a sub, but the production crew used the limited resources available to them and made it work. That’s great guerilla filmmaking. What is missing is a sense of being underwater due to Its lacked camera movement. Every shot involved a locked-down camera that never moved, telegraphing the fact this is a stage. Anyone who’s been at sea knows that nothing stands still and neither should the camera.
Second, the tension of waiting in silence wondering if this is the last day of your life is the main point of the story. This tension is created by having the cast sit in a room and talk about dying, which in film, is only half the magic. What if you’re telling a ghost story and your cast sits in a dark room talking about the ghosts in the room. You may have good actors, but a little movie magic would help your cast. Give your actors something to react to by adding sound effects to help heighten the danger. Then add a few cheap visual effects, and you’re on your way.
“…starting with an empty room, the production crew admirably adds just enough detail to pass as a submarine.”
I’m being petty now. Let’s get positive. As a student film, I’m assuming the budget was pretty small. As mentioned before, starting with an empty room, the production crew admirably adds just enough detail to pass as a submarine. Good use of close-ups on valve wheels and depth gauges also give a sense this is a real working submarine.
The short is shot in black and white. Any cinephile knows that black and white is not easy to film. You don’t simply remove color in post and you’re done. There’s a high level of shot planning and strategy involved. Lighting in black and white is king and the use of light and shadows helps heightened suspense and drama. Good filmmakers are intentional in how shots are composed and where lights are placed. Director of Photography does an admirable job setting the right mood and tone for a visually intriguing story.
In the case of UB-13, its strengths definitely outweigh its weaknesses. Director Ferri tells a good story, placing us in a claustrophobic underwater coffin, and helming a competent filmmaking crew working hard visually to deliver on his story.
UB-13 (2018) Written and directed Juri Ferri. Starring Dan Anderson, Atilla Akinci, Michael Wagner, Simon Stache, Paul Vitty, Josh Leese.
7 out of 10 stars