William Lappe’s short drama “Even Steven” feels like a contemporary successor to Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic “M.” In both films, a rotund yet pathetic pedophile (Peter Lorre in the Lang landmark, Mark Anthony Seda in this new edition) prey on vulnerable children.
But whereas “M” had the criminals of the city apprehend and mete out justice on the predator, “Even Steven” finds justice corrupted when a police detective (James McSherry) brutally assaults the pedophile during an interrogation, resulting in a scandal that sets the criminal free and puts the cop in line for imprisonment. With nothing further to lose and his own need for justice to be quenched, the cop hunts down the pedophile for belated comeuppance.
Needless to say, “Even Steven” is a harrowing experience. Lappe, himself a former NYPD detective, is uncompromising in his view of the despicable nature of the crimes being committed here. One scene in particular, where the underwear-clad predator leads a little girl into a bedroom and shuts the door, can generate sweat from even the steeliest of viewers. It is a credit to Lappe and his cinematographer Stephen Franciosa Jr. for framing the production with a haunting visual style.
If there is a flaw, it would be the dark comedy twist ending that doesn’t quite connect with the drama that preceded it. But even if its footing is loose in the final moments, “Even Steven” nonetheless uses striking artistry to pose disturbing questions of where the parameters of civilized justice ends and the quench for brute revenge takes over. It is a credit to Lappe for daring to take the most unpleasant of subjects and turning it into a brilliantly realized short film.