P.J. Wolff’s 9 Minutes (2014) was like if Signs and the Blair Witch Project had sex and conceived a short. Unfortunately, it seemed to have been pushed into the world prematurely. Although it had a number of good elements, it could have used a little more development to make it stand out from other sci-fi films.
The story begins with a dog named Jett, the sole companion to a man isolated in the California desert as he works on a vacation home. Despite being trapped in the barren wilderness, John (Joshua Leonard) manages to cope with his loneliness through technology until a strange electrical storm leaves him without power. With the storm, a menacing sound and blinking red light descends on John’s home. He clutches his cell phone and hits ‘record’ before blacking out. When John recovers, he finds his dog missing. In order to uncover the truth of the encounter and to track down Jett, John must sift through 9 minutes of shaky cell phone footage.
The suspense was one of the best elements of this film. It began with a slow pace that highlighted small, foreshadowing details like animals acting weird and slight static shocks to John. All the while, the soundtrack provided foreboding tunes. The suspense was also amplified through editing. What began as quick shots that were an average of 5 seconds long, shifted drastically after John heard a sound in the mobile home. The scene of him walking from one house to the other lasted about 40 seconds, which doesn’t seem like much, but certainly draws attention in a 14 (12 without credits) minute film. I think this film was also successful in terms of suspense by never revealing what the creatures looked like. By putting the aliens just outside of sight, 9 Minutes had my complete attention as I wondered if I would see them or not. Anyway, the unseen threat is sometimes the scariest.
On the shortoftheweek.com page featuring this short, four viewers commented that they enjoyed the setting and found it “atmospheric.” I agree that the desert environment set the mood and made me think of loneliness even before John admitted it in a phone call. Though the desert hills were beautiful to look at, I’m beginning to see desert settings in sci-fi films as an overused trope that imitates films like Close Encounters of a Third Kind.
The use of multimedia was fun, but not entirely unique. The first thing that came to mind when reading the description was The Blair Witch Project and Quarantine. The use of the cell phone footage did seem to add a little depth to the story and a layer of reality that a modern-day person might relate to, but didn’t move the plot in any way. With a title that points directly to this cell phone footage, it ends up only being about a minute long on screen and so disorienting that it is more annoying than suspenseful.
The ending also didn’t really “wow” me. During the emotional scene leading up to “surprise twist,” I was able to conclude the story before it happened. What disappointed me most was that it didn’t live up to the meaningful and artistic build-up in the beginning. I guess ultimately the message could be, “We’re not alone” but I don’t find that satisfying.
Overall, stylistically this film is great. It has nice special effects, editing, lighting, music, and scenery but screws the pooch on the story. Had it felt more than a mash-up of other stories already told, I might add it to my collection of favorites to share, but it falls short. Regardless, check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!