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Film Review: Monster

Kevin Austra, Steven Vogel, Michael Santiago light up the screen as rival 1920s East coast gangsters in Monster, a new short film by Kevin Austra. Cedric Gegel as “Benny” and Dalton Wayne as “Tom” also set the scene as two hotheads from the rivaling gangs who don’t trust one another.

Although Tom and Benny meet at gunpoint in the beginning, Felix Cabrillio, the gang boss played by Kevin Austra, believes cooler heads can prevail. Austra nails the delicate balance of calm collection and annoyance as he reveals to his rival, Elijah Dawson played by Steven Vogel, that Dawson’s men have been in his territory.

Both Austra and Vogel play off each other’s subtlety nicely. Like a tense game of poker, they never give away their hand by showing complete vulnerability to one another, but offer small facial hints to their states of mind.

Vogel poses a formidable adversary for Austra. He doesn’t bend the knee when asked, and instead challenges Austra’s selfish desires to take over. Vogel’s anger and tense feelings can be felt even though he never loses the steady, steely-eyed coolness that keeps him level. Although the anger between Vogel and Austra rises, there is a greater understanding that they don’t want things to escalate too far. It all adds a delightful tension to the scene.

The verbal card game comes to a head when the ace of spades, a mysterious man named “Martino” played by Michael Santiago shows up and talks down the guards Benny and Tom. He offers an unexpected upbeat energy that takes both Carbillo and Dawson by surprise. Through his theatrical display, we learn he is a man of the people, and wields his support not through money but politics.

Santiago’s charismatic performance as Martino perfectly embodies a slimy politician from the 20s. He uses his public authority for selfish gain which perfectly corners Carbrillo and Dawson. Finally, the two characters who have shown nothing but coolness appear to scramble a bit. In fact, there’s hardly any time for them to keep up with Santiago’s final, Machevellian play.

The ensemble performance of Monster is a great study in performance subtlety, tension and release with a bold character-driven finale.

Watch the trailer:


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