Ryan Swantek is a young filmmaker from the United States, still new on the scene, who has so far built his resume with a handful of short horror films – White Willow, 5:29 See the Devil’s Eyes, the upcoming Bathory: Virgin Blood, and the focus of today, Panther Ridge. Weighing in right around seven minutes long, Panther Ridge delves into the underground world of BDSM and lets the audience follow a woman on her first day on the “job.” Of course, it’s not all that cut and dried, because remember, in order to call it S&M, there has to be a masochist on the other end of the sadist’s violence.
Setting the stage, the short film opens on a man (Clinton Bailiff; Sleep of the Abyss, The Necroplasmic Massacre) tied up and bound in a dark room. In walks Ivan (Seth Goodfellow; The Bag Man, A Model Kidnapping), the director of the shoot, along with the afore-mentioned “new girl,” Vera (Chenara Imrith; Dinner with Psychopaths). She is clearly nervous, hesitant, no doubt a stomach full of butterflies, but Ivan does his best to reassure her, reminding her that she won’t be working alone. Right on cue, Kat (Kerry Hempel; 100 Monkeys: Operation V) enters the room. She is a confident veteran of the business, a bit on the cocky side, and the perfect person to show a newbie the ropes (insert rimshot here). But once the cameras start rolling, we can’t help but wonder: How many members of this “cast” are actually willing participants?
Panther Ridge is a short film that falls into a unique category. It looks good, and is shot well, a compliment to the camerawork of cinematographer Harrison Stagner (see his work in Downpour and In-Between). The makeup and effects, aka blood and gore, all courtesy of Jess Marie, are also well done. The story flows well from beginning to end, edited together nicely by Austin O’Reilly. And aside from a clunky line delivery at a key moment of the film (no spoilers here, but actress Jada Poon also makes a brief appearance), the acting is pretty smooth as well. So, where’s the problem? The whole thing feels like a scene from a movie, a quick glimpse of a piece of a bigger story, but not a complete story. This is the danger zone of short films: if it’s not done just right, it will come out as a fragment of a film rather than a complete film. And this is the unique spot Panther Ridge finds itself in – it’s well done in all facets except for story, which is typically the most important part.
Writer/director Swantek’s Panther Ridge is a short film that feels like it could have been something better; I’m not mad at it, I’m just disappointed. The idea is there, the talent is there, the gore is there, hell, there’s even better character development here than in some full-length films. In the end, it just comes up short on substance. The blood and guts make it worth checking out, and I have every intention of checking out Swantek’s other films, especially Bathory: Virgin Blood (which will probably release around the same time as this review hits the web), because there is a good bit of promise in these seven brief minutes.