Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Stephen W. Martin for allowing me access to an online screener of his 16 minute, Horror/Fantasy short “Dead Hearts”. Dead Hearts chronicles the life of young Milton Mulberry (played by Valin Shinyei), a mortician whose carrying on the business that’s been in his family for generations. After classmate Lola Littleton (Dalila Bela) comes to Milton’s defense during a lunchtime beat down by a group of bullies, he knows he’s found love and will do whatever it takes to give her his heart. The film also stars Duncan Templeton, Nancy Bell and Thomas Orr-Loney as “Old Milton”. I knew next to nothing about Martin’s short prior to watching it. I saw that he had a few writing credits to his name and that this was only the second film he’d made. I’m fortunate enough to have a wide range of readers from all over the world following my writing at Adamthemoviegod. Stephen was one of those people so I figured I could repay the favor by taking a look at his Canadian made short.
There’s a genuinely interesting statement behind Stephen’s film, not only is the premise unique its themes are universal. Those themes of love and its importance in our lives and what it means to be human are at the forefront of what is an extremely entertaining and heartfelt 16 minutes. There’s a “Beetlejuice” feel about the tone of this one, especially during and after the resurrection sequence. I’m a huge fan of the aforementioned and it was clear to me from the start that Dead Hearts had that kind or air about it. The production value is fantastic. All of the camera work is finely detailed, the shot choices delicate and polished. In the opening few minutes there’s a gorgeous overhead shot of a tray table showing all of a mortician’s utensils, followed by a sudden exertion from Milton which is edited perfectly. On another occasion, there’s a vertical shot exhibited from the table looking back up at Milton. Each of these various nuances make Stephen’s film aesthetically one of the best that I’ve ever seen. The audio levels are crystal clear and the sound effects nice and loud, especially during the parts involving action where they’re really put to good use. The editing is another feature here that’s incredibly energetic. Moments during the fight choreography there’s snappy zooming and swift cuts, moments later gentle panning as Lola prepares to leave Milton behind.
I’m picky when it comes to technical approach but as good as it is here, it isn’t really what makes Martin’s film so absorbing. Instead it’s the well constructed dialogue and distinctive narration that leads us through Milton’s tale, much like a time your parents read you one of your favorite bedtime stories. I don’t know who was behind the narration but it’s the driving force of the entire film, so kudos. It parallels that of the various world’s Tim Burton creates within his films particularly “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands” (two of my absolute favorites). Although there’s very little dialogue during interactions between characters, everyone’s acting is still of a high standard. I thought Stephen’s approach to divulging the description of the story was what made the experience unique, and not just the usual character interaction that’s making revelations known to the audience. Both Lola Martin and Luke Moore were responsible for the wonderful music you hear in the film. At one point there’s some Spanish influence, followed by that “other worldly” sounding Tim Burton esq score, which moves along to some relaxing Jazz like something you would have heard in any of the film noir pictures. There’s even a bit of punk rock thrown in at one point, just for good measure.
Animation and practical effects were not something I expected to see in Dead Hearts but it was a welcomed addition all the same. There’s a cool array of animated images during the turning point of the story and then towards the end there’s some fairly graphic and random gore. This is the first review for any film I’ve reviewed that will not contain a section titled “The Bad”. In 16 minutes you’ll be hard pressed to find anything wrong with Dead Hearts, there’s only one minor issue and it lies with the stunts at the climax of the film. What we have is conflict between the older versions of Milton, Lola and the school bully Harold but it’s painfully clear younger stunt performers are playing those roles. Obviously right? Because seniors don’t usually do their own stunts haha, otherwise they might slip a disk or sustain other types of injuries and we wouldn’t want that. I guess it plays as somewhat comedic but none the less it’s an obvious flaw so that’s why I’m mentioning it.
It’s rare these days I watch a film without seeing the trailer or knowing some of its details but every once in a while that turns out to be the best thing, as is the case here. What we have here is truly a hidden gem. From a technical point alone, Dead Hearts is so far advanced in comparison to most independent films. The camera work is exceptional, the audio and sound effects perfect. Each of the cast members make their moments on-screen memorable and the elocution within the narration makes for a fresh technique toward this kind of film. The quality of writing combined with Stephen’s approach to the storytelling makes for a simply superb result. The message and its humor within are important and topping it all off are some fun bloody effects that make this one a must see. I’m really beginning to shine to short films and projects like Dead Hearts only strengthen that. This one takes the cake as the best one that I’ve seen, fantastic job to all those involved!
My rating for “Dead Hearts” is 9.5/10