Young scouts Jackson, Dustin and Miles are on a camping trip as part of a prestigious opportunity for their troop. It’s their initiation into the next, higher level of the organization.
Subjected to trials of speed, strength and endurance, they struggle to prove themselves and find themselves pitted against one another in order to win.
But one of them begins to realize that all is not what it seems with their scouting organization — and discovering the truth unearths a darker side to both the “order” and the boys than anyone imagined.
Like many other excellent thrillers, writer-director Chad Cunningham’s suspenseful, action-packed short leans on impeccable craftsmanship to draw viewers into its meticulously drawn world and story.
What stands out initially in this short film is its incredible camerawork, sound design and score, which all work together to create an atmosphere of suspense and tension that keeps the audience’s curiosity alive.
Smart, compelling visuals and fine performances by its mostly young cast parse out information about the world and characters like breadcrumbs that we — and the lead young scout, Jackson — follow avidly. The desire to poke beneath an initially innocuous or placid surface is irresistible to both the scouts and to the audience, and we uncover the secrets about the order just as Jackson does.
The story itself is a riff on classic themes explored in stories like “Lord of the Flies” — the conflict between decency and civilization versus the savagery evoked by rivalry and competition for seemingly scarce resources and rewards. This is rich classical narrative territory, but the film approaches it with energy and self-assured verve.
The hidden world and secrets are dark, as is its final statement on human nature. But as a film, it’s also just a lot of fun, and a sheer pleasure, to watch, using the art of superlative filmmaking to immerse an audience into its story and characters. Its confidence and craft beg for a feature-length treatment to fill out the characters and background, but at its current scale, “The Order” offers thrills and chills worthy of a multiplex.