"Soho Square" is another miracle film debut, made for about $7,000 U.S. using credit cards, the generosity of friends, family, and sympathetic creative people. Completed on a Mac editing system, Jamie Rafn's feature film debut may be an ingeniously realized effort, but his film is also an excellent, highly engaging, psychological thriller.
Rafn's commentary track benefits from the director's own appreciation for the DVD format; never having gone to film school, Rafn's movie mania ultimately motivated the abandonment of his legal studies, whereupon he made a pair of short films before taking the feature-length plunge. His reasoning is simple ('just go for it'), and inspirational: technology and kindness can go a long way to realize a vision, in spite of budgetary fears.
An excellent script, focused direction, a great cast, and a superior cinematographer can transcend a non-existent budget (credit card extensions aside), but Rafn's editing (with co-editor Sam Eastall) also shows another creative venue that can shape a film into something deeply engaging.
Shot on mini-DV, "Soho Square" does have obvious visual flaws, particularly when blown up for film projection, yet Rafn and cinematographer Brendan McGinty's pre-planned lighting for the film's interwoven time threads demonstrates DV's viability as an option for thriller filmmakers seeking a gritty and occasional antiseptic look. It's hardly a new realization, but when combined with such a capable cast (primarily stage and RADA-trained thespians), "Soho Square" ends up being an accomplished thriller which cleverly challenges audiences seeking untraditional narrative filmmaking.
Sundance's transfer is very good, and the only flaw lies in the dialogue tracks, which Rafn admits required certain fixing during the mixing stage. Processed sound effects and eerie, if sometimes repetitive, music cues do help, but the dialogue tonalities are frequently too close to the film's bass-friendly, droning sound design, making for muddy dialogue exchanges that lack specific crispness for needed clarity. The movie's hardly unintelligible, but the murky dialogue is particularly frustrating when exchanges are very subtle.
The DVD also includes a very short intro bumper from the Sundance Channel, with Rafn offering a few personal words prior to the film's broadcast. It's actually better to dive into "Soho Square" naked, as Rafn's intro discusses the story's initial genesis that may spoil a character's introduction. The DVD also contains optional English subtitles, but it's actually a closed-captioned track, with descriptive bits for onscreen sounds and music cues.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan