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By Merle Bertrand | July 20, 2004

Ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right? You’re running late on your way to a meeting perhaps, and your briefcase flies open, spilling reports and papers everywhere. Or you’re having a potentially productive conversation with an attractive member of the opposite sex, when an old-flame makes an ill-timed entrance. It’s these little seemingly unnecessary snags in life that form the core of our everyday existence.

But what if these weren’t merely annoying coincidences at all? What if the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures of our lives were all out of our control? This is the chilling, yet bleakly amusing world director Aaron Marshall sets up in his cynically comical short film, “When the Cat’s Away.”

Here, everything that happens to us occurs as a result of beings like the maliciously mischievous quick-draw artist (Jeremy White) who slouches, haunted and with dark circles under his eyes, on a bus stop bench. There, the mysterious manipulator observes the world around him and, when he spies a potential subject/victim, hurriedly sketches their immediate future in a notepad. Lo and behold, the event he draws actually occurs moments later. Sure, it’s funny in a sadistic sort of way…as long as it happens to somebody else. But it’s also pretty darned creepy, especially when the anonymous artistic overlord finds his devastating artistry being challenged by a quick draw artist from the other team.

Marshall’s film makes good use of its low-tech, black and white look — (a shot-on-film film! What a concept!) — helped along by a broodingly effective soundtrack, to turn ordinary life into an ominous and foreboding struggle.

While Good vs. Evil and Free Will vs. Pre-destiny are a couple of long-standing philosophical debates about the human condition, Marshall somehow neatly manages to encapsulate the pros and cons of each argument in a way the philosophers can only dream about, in eight short minutes. Whichever side of the debate you believe, the caustic comedy “When the Cat’s Away” provides plenty of food for thought.

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