A man is on the road in the middle of the night, driving in almost total darkness. He seems to be on the run, agitated and regretful.
He stops for gas, but soon his car runs out of fuel, much more quickly than expected. He goes to refuel, but soon a mysterious threat seems to catch up for him, and he goes on the run again.
But then the gas tank of his car emptying quickly, pulling him back into another gas station — and back to the mysterious interloper that keeps pursuing him.
Pared-down, noirish and foreboding, writer-director Dylan Boom’s brooding sci-fi short — co-written with Barrett Carnahan — is a slow burn of a nightmare, as a man finds himself fleeing in the darkness yet unable to shake free from a vague yet haunting threat.
The short is minimal in execution, with no dialogue, a single actor (Kevin Sizemore) and a pared-down economy of symbols, motifs and images that keep recurring. Yet the elements that it does work with are rich with intrigue: the shadows and pools of light offer the sense of a world apart, and the few objects and people within it are suggestive with meaning without giving any of the film’s secrets away.
As the film runs through the various loops of action — man fills up gas, goes out of the road, encounters a threat in the distance, runs out of gas and then goes to fill up gas again — these symbols take on added portent, gaining in a mysterious yet unmistakable dread for both the viewer and the main character.
“Carl” requires patience and a sharp eye, and it won’t easily spill out its meaning in a clear, easy way. Instead, it works like the logic of dreams, in a more free-associative and subconscious way, and like David Lynch, it takes its images of Americana and turns them surreal and even sinister.
The story could be interpreted as one man’s wish to evade some dark aspect of his consciousness or past, but is forced to face himself in the end. Or it could be taken at face value as a story about a mysterious sentient object with an agenda of its own. Either way, it digs its way into the darker corners of your mind, to be puzzled over with a strangely powerful sense of unease.