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By Mark Bell | May 23, 2014

Oskar (Henry Fagg) is a fledgling stand-up comedian, ready to finally take that step forward and perform in front of a real crowd. There have been stops and starts in the past, as show promoter and host Ralph (Michael Bates) reminds Oskar, but tonight is the night. Unfortunately for Oskar, everything from the disinterested bachelorette party to the belligerent heckler are in the crowd, and besides, Oskar’s act is somewhat nontraditional, which doesn’t bode well.

Luke and Kristian Ramsden’s short film, Gag, is a film with a punchline I frankly just did not get. That is not to say that I didn’t follow along with what was going on, or understand what was being said, I just didn’t grasp what the film was trying to say by its overall existence. Is Oskar the comedian, or the joke? Does his fate make literal, or figurative, sense? On what level of reality are we to place the elements of the story?

Which is to say, the film is either straightforward, being exactly as it presents itself and thus, for me, underwhelming, or it is a more subversive statement on the act of performance itself, and the risks inherent, and thus deserves a bit more thoughtful scrutiny. The rub here, however, is I’m not entirely sure if I buy the latter, but I’m too optimistic to think it simply the former.

Visually, the film’s use of black, white and gray adds to the potential murkiness and ambiguity to the film’s meaning. Aesthetically it is nightmarish, though the proceedings rarely live up to that level of disturbance. They try, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t quite get there.

This is related to the film’s shortcomings, which include an audio mix that is sometimes hard to understand; I did watch certain moments more than once, to be sure I heard them correctly. The pace of the film is also slow bordering on boring, and thus even when the developments attempt to ratchet up the film’s intensity, the calm you’ve been lulled into doesn’t allow for a proper response. Likewise, the performance at the heart of the film doesn’t inspire you to feel anything one way or another; no suspense, no fear, no joy, no laughter.

If I’m being optimistic, I think Gag is making a point of some sort about the act of performance, and the life or death stakes of live art in the face of a brutal audience. Otherwise, it’s a straightforward narrative that fails to inspire much thought or feeling. I could see the argument for both interpretations.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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