Sean Ellis has morphed his Oscar nominated short film Cashback into a feature, and the result is a beautiful if somewhat dim-witted film.
In a nutshell the plot concerns art student Ben Willis, who becomes an insomniac after a devastating break-up, and soon finds that his severe lack of sleep renders him able to stop time and witness the world around him as a still life. That he’s passing time in the nightshift at a supermarket that seems to cater exclusively to models is even more surprising, and it’s hard to give Ellis a break here. As an artist Ben is obsessed with the female form, thus goes around undressing these frozen shoppers to sketch them to his heart’s content. There’s a fine line between art and pornography here – not to mention assault – and the fact that Ben only seems to sketch women of a certain body type doesn’t help. (That IMDb’s plot keywords are ‘nude girl / female nudity / nudity’ really says it all… there is a LOT of flesh in this movie.)
Whilst that aspect of the film is likely to alienate some viewers, it’s the narrative that falters the most. We are sidetracked on more than one occasion (in particular the extended soccer match, putting me in mind of another gratuitous sporting scene that was in Little Children), and a lot of the big events of the film are either clichéd or waaay to convenient.
That being said, I actually quite enjoyed Cashback. The central characters are rather endearing. Sean Biggerstaff could have made Ben nothing more than a whiny prick but somehow I felt for him. Emilia Fox is great as checkout chick Sharon, though I spent a lot of the time thinking how much she looked like Sarah Polley. The ragtag bunch of co-workers are clichéd but fun, and Shaun Evans is far more effective as a crude sleaze than he was as the lead in Gone (which was released in Australia the same day as Cashback).
The cinematography is of course the film’s undeniable triumph, and Sean Ellis certainly has an eye for stunning visuals. The frozen moments are wonderfully handled, and only feature a couple of instances where you can see the actors struggling to keep still.
The film is overwhelmingly simplistic at times, and misses out on interesting potential subplots, but I still liked it. Whatever Ellis does next, you can be sure that it’s going to look good…Rating: