Compilation films, no matter how esoteric the thread that binds them, are always a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a compilation like “Six in Austin” is bound to have at least something in it for everyone just by the very fact that it contains six different short films by eight different directors. The flipside, of course, is that any compilation is also highly likely to contain at least one or more segments with nothing in it for anyone. “Six in Austin” is no exception.
Modeled after an obscure 1965 collection of French New Wave films called “Six in Paris,” this Lone Star twist starts off strongly with Nathan and David Zellner’s “Rummy.” The Zellner brothers, whose past two feature efforts “Plastic Utopia” and “Frontier” have raised the bar on twisted oddball comedy, at first seem to be playing it uncharacteristically safe here. Sam (David Zellner) bumps into his ex-flame Lacey (Stephanie Wilson) at a park where she’s walking their dog Choo-Choo. Or at least that’s what Sam still calls the cute little fur ball. Lacey now calls Choo-Choo “Rummy,” thus transforming Sam’s sniveling about their break-up three years before into an explosive, pent-up rage that’s as pathetic as it is hysterical.
Another excellent short in this collection is “The Absence of Wings” from Kat Candler (“Cicadas”). Derek Wade plays Isaac, a shy young man as sensitive as he is diminutive who seeks solace from his abusive father by drawing. That all of his drawings are sketches of his pure and pretty classmate Catherine (Lindsay Brookman) as an angel complete with wings should have set off some alarm bells somewhere…
Also deserving of a brief nod is Bob Ray (“Rock Opera”) for “Wrecked.” This scathing look at corporate downsizing and its comically violent result is like Dilbert on a really bad day, pissed off and primed with firearms. Only an unnecessary and confusing “It was all a dream…” coda drags this film down a bit.
The other three films included here, on the other hand, don’t quite measure up to the three described above. Gonzalo Gonzalez’ cyber-stalker techno thriller “Beset” falls prey to amateurish performances in spite of its digital effects wizardry. Geoff Marslett’s meandering high school satire “Out of Bounds” simply seems to run in circles like the high school PE class in the film. Finally, while the payoff to Wyatt and Zack Phillips’ “Carlos” is as shocking and abrupt as it is wholly unexpected, it’s not enough to make up for the nearly real-time bus ride we’re forced to witness while waiting for that pay-off.
Setting aside the uneven nature of the six short films in “Six in Austin,” one of the more puzzling characteristics of the compilation is the absence of much having to do with Austin. Nothing here really celebrates or explores life in the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” Indeed, except for the views out the bus windows in “Carlos,” we rarely see the city at all. This lack of making the city a star in its own right is an unfortunate omission for this collection of otherwise generally solid and ambitious short films.