John C. Lyons’s short film “Hunting Camp” concerns three con artists, a businessman, and one weekend that permanently changes their lives. In structuring the story surrounding these characters, Lyons relies on plot twists, diluted dramatic irony, and the notion that there is no honor from double-crossing thieves. “Hunting Camp” begins by introducing Steve (Trevor Huster), Susan (Karen Jeffreys) and their friend Trevor (Rodney Simba Masarirambi) as followers of the take-advantage-of-the-rich-and-give-to-yourself school of thought. They aren’t petty thieves, so they avoid acts such as hijacking and armed robbery. As evidenced in their first scene, Steven and Susan have more interest in letting themselves into other people’s homes and playing house.
Meanwhile, Lyons’s film presents Jake (George Petrus) the businessman. His alarm wakes him up at 6 in the morning; he rolls out of bed, and prepares for another workday. Before going to the office, he goes to the edge of his backyard, which overlooks a stream at the bottom of ravine. Visibly upset, Jake wrenches his wedding ring off his finger and hurls it in the direction of the water. Though he makes it to his workplace, Jake decides to take the day off and go his friend Steve’s hunting cabin. His arrival is met with surprise but Steve does his best to be a good host. This impromptu weekend of fun and rejuvenation ends prematurely as Jake learns the truth about something that has been troubling and causing him mental pain.
What I’ve discussed thus far is the basic outline of the story in “Hunting Camp.” The film itself progresses in a somewhat narratively disjointed way, but the filmmaker implements visual indicators as to when a flashback approaches (boxed, split-screen images) so that the viewer isn’t needlessly confused. The film’s premise and even its plot twists are solidly conceived and executed. Where the film falters is in the acting. Karen Jeffreys speaks calmly and confidently. Even badly scripted dialogue would not necessarily sound so terrible coming from her mouth. Trevor Huster, on the other hand, delivers his lines too earnestly. He is also frequently caught in the relay of the camera cutting back and forth between him and Jake. As a result, there are millisecond pauses just before he talks and they break the cinematic spell. It is as though he becomes self-aware and you know he has become self-aware. He stops imparting the thoughts of his character and starts “acting” in a movie.
Short films may not easily grow into full-length versions because of underwhelming interest from “important people” or by the very nature of the piece—maybe it isn’t the sort of short that merits or needs a longer edition. But, if Lyons were to review “Hunting Camp” and make relevant adjustments, he could have another story ready for revisiting.