Volume 96, Issue 90
Thursday, March 20, 2003

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Western director harnesses the power of film noir

Return to Sender
Starring: John Czikk, Christine Pickering, Aron Flam, Andrew Quinlan
Directed by: Rob McCallum

By Brent Carpenter

Gazette Staff

If you were in attendance at last weekend's UWO Film Festival, then you may have seen the trailer for Return to Sender.

With a runtime of about 22 minutes, the film itself – directed by third-year honours film major Rob McCallum – was too long to qualify for festival competition. Instead, it can be viewed this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the Western Science Centre, Rm. 55, or at its official premiere this Friday in University College, Rm. 84.

McCallum, at the helm of his first ever Western-Fanshawe College co-production, took one month to shoot on weekends with a cast and crew of 20, although the entire process took close to six months. Shot on digital video and made for $450 from the writer/director's own wallet, Return to Sender employs recognizable film noir conventions, drawing heavily upon such classics as Out of the Past and The Maltese Falcon.

The story centres around a guilt-ridden man named Todd Davidson (generally well-played by John Czikk), who comes clean to his fiancée, Lauren (Alexandra Pietrzak), about his questionable past.

Much of the film is shot in flashback, as the viewer – again, in typical noir fashion – is able to witness the events which bring our protagonist up to his current predicament.

Todd is a guy who mopes through life looking like a kid who just found out there's no Easter Bunny. He seems to have accepted the fact that, according to generic conventions, he's probably screwed. As a result, Czikk – possibly insecure as a novice actor – delivers his dialogue like he's standing on a chair with a noose around his neck. Whether or not it's intentional, it effectively adds to the paranoia and despair of his character.

In a 20-minute student film, Czikk's performance is something to be commended; after all, none of the film's performers work under the Screen Actor's Guild. Regardless, the rest of the cast is effective.

Aside from Todd and his fiancée, the film also features the femme-fatale (Christine Pickering), her bookie husband Philip (Aron Flam), Philip's shady accomplice (Andrew Quinlan), a gambling junkie (Charles Pooley) and, of course, the detective (played with coffee-house cool by A.W. Morgan).

What McCallum and his crew lack in experience is partially compensated by their obvious knowledge of, and appreciation for, the classic film noir movies that evolved in the 1940s. The themes of pessimism, murder and adultery are just a few of the happy ingredients that defined the genre, and McCallum draws from all of them with varying degrees of success.

Also refreshing is his point-and-shoot style of direction, which would have been easier for the cast and crew – especially editor Steve Todd – to work with.

Furthermore, director of videography Giovanni Paola ensures that the film – shot in black and white – contains a noir-esque bleakness in which the only thing that comes even close to resembling sunshine is the ceiling light in a dim basement.

Overall, Return to Sender is an interesting exercise in genre filmmaking by a first-time narrative filmmaker. The story could obviously benefit from a little lengthening, and McCallum has even done so in his screenplay, but time constraints are always an issue. Whether you're in Hollywood or Haliburton, this is something that'll never change.

Check out Return to Sender this Thursday or Friday and see what you think.


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