Andrew is the sound recordist on film sets, where he operates in the margins, unseen and often forgotten. Using his audio equipment, he can listen to and record private conversations between cast and crew members, who often forget they’re wearing the small microphones Andrew can put on them or the sets.
When Andrew overhears and captures audio of a young up-and-coming actress, Amy, having an affair with the film’s director, he uses the recording to blackmail her. And the price he’s asking isn’t the typical money or power, but something altogether more strange and perverse.
Directed by Indianna Bell and Josiah Allen from a script written by Bell, this taut, self-assured short thriller generates both a sinister atmosphere and compelling suspense through whip-smart writing and superb craft. The result is an intelligent, provocative story that engages the mind and senses at every turn, leading to an archly ironic, indelible and memorable ending.
Like many effective thrillers with a solid foundation in the writing, this film carefully sets up its characters and world, igniting a powderkeg through conflict and watching the fireworks explode. The script situates its main character as overlooked, quiet yet intelligent and observant. From his perch on the literal margins of the action, he is often overlooked and ignored. But Andrew is also both omniscient and invisible. Through thoughtful, sculpted sound design and intimate camerawork, we sit for a moment in Andrew’s headspace, experiencing the vicarious thrills and pleasure he does when he stumbles upon seemingly private moments.
One of these moments is a golden opportunity for Andrew, which he exploits and manipulates for his benefit, blackmailing the lead actress, who is having an affair with the director. Andrew coerces Amy into having dinner with him, a quasi-date at a lavish restaurant. It’s a masterful scene, and what’s both hypnotic and horrifying is seeing how Andrew — played by actor Brendan Rock with both intelligence and quiet menace — understands himself as marginal but possesses a great resentment at his lack of status and power. So when he does wield power over Amy, he does so with a long-awaited entitlement, with a gleam of sadism that gives audiences a sense of foreboding over what price he will exact from her.
Longlisted for the short live-action Oscar as a prize-winner at the Austin Film Festival, “The Recordist” sets up a clash of power between the haves and have-nots of the world, written off as invisible and relegated to the sidelines. Many thrillers function around manipulation, whether gaming a system, playing with perception or exploiting resources through dubious means. The irony is that thrillers themselves are often masterworks of plotting and other seemingly benign forms of narrative manipulation. The Recordist works so effectively, though, because it burrows deep into its main character. When we see what Andrew desires above all, it works because the narrative so powerfully explored his perspective and experiences. The ending is a nasty little surprise, but it’s also oddly and hilariously true to the scope of Andrew’s powers and his place in the world.