Criminal Audition (2020)

Director: Samuel Gridley

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Luke Kaile, Rich Keeble, Rebecca Calienda, Noeleen Comiskey, Cameron Harris, Scott Samain, Blain Neale, Ben Scheck, Angela Peters, Jonathan Burteaux

As we open on a man breaking into an abandoned building, the opening credits play against colourful freeze-frames, as the score brings the Wild West to mind. A pretty appropriate choice, as it invokes the lawless nature of the landscape. The characters may not be wearing stetsons and carrying six-shooters, but this group of people are just as willing to circumvent the law, no matter the moral cost, for financial gain.

Led by ex-lawyer, William (Rich Keeble), his team hold auditions for the most greedy and desperate of people. One of three individuals will be selected as a fake criminal, to take the fall for the crimes of the rich and powerful, with the promise of financial reward. To find the perfect candidate, a dangerous client will put them through hell.

Co-written by star Luke Kaile, and director Samuel Gridley, the screenplay has an interesting idea at its core. The social realist proposal feels entirely plausible, but rather than focusing on the powerful who need to escape the law, a ground level approach is utilised. We witness the people who run this organisation, be it out of aspirations to be rich, or because they feel trapped.

Take Ryan, for instance. He's revered for his past actions, which were done in service of the company, but he doesn't look at it in the same way. He feels disillusioned with what he's a part of, and wishes to be anywhere else, something Luke Kaile does good work in capturing. Ryan serves as the right-hand man for William, the organisation's leader. Rich Keeble ably depicts the nature of his character, who doesn't like confrontation, but would rather roll over and show his belly (metaphorically speaking). He submits to his clients will, even if it goes against what he thinks is right, ready to justify it however he can. Then there's Moe, the muscle of the operation. A man of few words, the dead-pan style of Scott Samain makes him the films stand-out.

We also see those who are desperately in need, believing that taking the fall for somebody else's crimes is their best course of action. The trio of candidates may share that in common, but each has a different reason for reaching this point. J sees little other outcome for his life, so has embraced being seen as a criminal. However, no matter how much of an act he puts on, this tough guy carries much vulnerability. L is also emotionally vulnerable, but this is due to a personal pain she holds, which has led her to give up on life. Then there's P, who sees this audition process as a fun way to enact a fantasy, and shed his do-gooder image.

They each have different approaches to this try-out, but the question looms over about the lengths they're willing to take. Enter the client, Ms M, and her right-hand man, Morris, who ensure the candidates face the reality of what they're signing up for. Take a scene where they get a phone out, and force somebody to call a loved one. It's a well-crafted moment, as the potential criminal is made to see how those close to them will be impacted should they be victorious.

From the moment she enters the frame, Ms M throws a spanner in the works, and spirals the scenario out of control. She's willing to go to any lengths, and clearly relishes it, with Noeleen Comiskey killing it in the role. Aiding her is Morris, who you're aware will be nothing but trouble, because he puts milk first in his cup of tea. Cameron Harris may feel like he's from a different film, but he puts his all into the role.

When it comes to the origins of this story, you can tell they lie on the stage, which can feel a bit distracting. It also doesn't help how little the tension is felt, but these are quibbles, among this remarkable beginning for a feature filmmaker.

Criminal Audition is available to rent from Video on Demand