Zachary Halley’s musical short film, Grind, brings a decidedly dark, yet energetic and often fun, perspective to the world of hook-up apps. Flatmates Vincent (Anthony Rapp) and Thane (Pasha Pellosie) are both having difficulty with their favorite casual hook-up app. For Vincent, he’s a charming intellectual with the keypad, but no one seems to be all that keen on him from a superficially physical standpoint. Thane has the exact opposite problem; as a model, he’s constantly getting hit up, but he’s looking for a more meaningful interaction.
To solve their dilemma, Thane proposes that Vincent use his skills to woo the type of person Thane is interested in meeting. Vincent protests at first; what will the potential hook-up think when the guy who was super-charming via text shows up and can’t sustain that level of conversation? Does it matter when you look as good as Thane does? Likewise, when it is suggested that Vincent use Thane’s looks to get his own men, the question becomes whether anyone will follow through when the person who appears doesn’t match the picture.
The two move forward with Thane’s plan, however, and all is somewhat fine. Both find new experiences, but it awakens a discomfort in Vincent he’s been hiding for some time; the sometimes callous superficiality of the entire hook-up app experience starts to drain on him. Likewise, Thane begins to confront his own feelings about what he truly wants.
First off, any time you can put Anthony Rapp in a position where he gets to sing his heart out, you’ve got something of quality. The man is talented to a ridiculous degree, and coupling that musical talent with the opportunity to deliver a powerful and layered performance only puts things over the top. Even if nothing else worked, Rapp is spectacular in this film.
The good news is that he’s not the sole success of this short. The film creates its own world and does an incredible job of bringing the audience in and setting up the stakes, while remaining fun and entertaining. When things turn dark, and they do, horribly so, it is a shocking moment but, at the same time, fitting with how the film has been building the emotions of its tale. You may not want to believe that these things can happen, but they also don’t feel unbelievable in the context of the film.
As far as the musical numbers go, I think they integrate nicely into the shifting energy of the film. There aren’t any songs that I found myself singing after the fact, so I don’t know that there’s anything catchy in that classically musical sense, but that doesn’t mean an impact isn’t made in the moment. For example, while I can’t remember exactly how the song sounded that was part of the most intensely dark scene in the entire short, I can’t forget the power of that scene as a whole. The musical moments fit naturally, enhance the experience and everything works together to make something memorable.
The main criticism of this film is going to be the running time. Pushing past twenty minutes is hard enough as is for a short film, but going into the low thirties is stranding the film in an area where it is historically challenging to find an audience. A thirty-plus minute short is hard to program at a film festival, and when was the last time you saw something in a theater or on television that was over thirty minutes, but nowhere near an hour? It’s unfortunate, because it’s an extra obstacle for an indie short film that is already faced with so many obstacles to begin with just by being an indie short film.
Does the short need to be this long? I think an argument could be made that a song could be eliminated, perhaps, or the narrative tightened up; while there are elements that become repetitive, they do evolve, but perhaps not fast enough? From my perspective, I think the film does work as is, but I don’t know how many people will get to see it as is. Perhaps the answer is an expansion in the other direction; working more character growth in other ways, adding scenes that aren’t necessary musical, but serve to expand upon the lives of Thane and Vincent. Maybe there’s a feature to be found?
But that’s all theoretical, and I do think the film strikes a strong balance as it currently exists, so maybe it is exactly as it should be, all other practical concerns be damned. It’s a unique visual and auditory experience, and it paints the world of hook-up apps in a way I had not thought about. I do hope I’m wrong about the film having difficulty getting to an audience, because I do think it deserves to be seen.
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