Sunday, April 17, 2016

Short Film Spotlight: THE KILLING GRIN

Welcome back to another installment of SHORT FILM SPOTLIGHT.  This week, we take a look at the brand new Harley Quinn fan film...THE KILLING GRIN.

According to the film's Facebook page, "The Killing Grin is set in a completely new universe while taking inspiration from the entire Batman history.  With a new, fresh take on the beloved character Harley Quinn, this is a way that the character has never been seen before.  She is brutal, ruthless, and peppy and fun the way we all know and love.  She has her own motives and her own drive and nobody knows what she is going to do next!"

Check out the film below:

What does it take to push a good person to do bad things?  Well, in this brand new fan film, Dr. Harleen Quinnzel learns the answer to that question, and from it springs her fall into madness as one of the most well known and iconic DC villains of all time, Harley Quinn.

Jason Onorad, writer and director of The Killing Grin, drew from his deep passion for this character while making the film, which is clearly evident throughout.  He managed to capture her core essence, staying true to who the character is, while giving fans his own, brand new take.  Jason drew from the original Batman: The Animated Series Harley Quinn, and mixed her with the Batman: Arkham game series version.  She's fun and peppy, but at the same time, dark and sadistic.  He created a great fusion of this character, one that I'm excited to see more from.

I can't talk about this character without talking about the incredible woman who played her.  Chelsea Mike Schmitt was able to bring to life Harley in such a way that it didn't seem like she was just trying to imitate past incarnations, but instead breath brand new life into an already vibrant character.  I loved how she was able to emulate the voice, attitude, and mannerisms of Harley, while still giving a unique spin to it.  During the film's Live Stream Premiere Q&A, Chelsea mentioned that she worked tirelessly to get the voice right, including reciting lines from various podcasts in the Harley voice.  That sort of dedication is what made her character shine in this film.

The Killing Grin starts off with a very creepy, almost horroresque tone thanks to some great music choices by the director.  We see Dr. Harleen Quinnzel as she's being interviewed by Dr. Jeremiah Arkham for a position at Arkham Asylum.  She reveals that her goal is to make a name for herself by writing a book about Arkham's most infamous resident, The Joker (though his name is never actually said during this scene).  This was a great introduction to the Harley Quinn origin as it's something you don't normally see in other fan films surrounding the character.  The one thing I didn't care for in this scene, however, was the portrayal of Dr. Arkham.  I'm not 100% sure what it was about the performance, but something just seemed off to me.

The film then jumps to a scene of Harleen in her car after she's just murdered three people, according to the news cast heard on the radio.  This is the very moment that Dr. Harleen Quinnzel transforms into Harley Quinn.  This is solidified by a beautiful shot of Harley smirking in the rearview mirror.  Chelsea managed to capture exactly who Harley is in just that one look.  The scene is capped off with the very first mention of The Joker, with Harley saying "This one's for you, Mr. J", which, I have to admit, was a total "HELLS YEAH!" moment for me.

We then skip three years later, where we see a couple, Henry and Tina, sitting down for a nice, romantic dinner together, but all isn't what it seems.  The next scene shows the couple tied to their chairs, waking up after having been, presumably, drugged.  Then enters our main character, Harley Quinn, complete with her own creepy, carnivalesque music, which perfectly sets the tone.  This is where I instantly fell in love with Chelsea's portrayal of Harley Quinn.  It was perfect, from the look, to the voice, all the way down to the way she carries herself.  I couldn't have asked for better.  And the actors playing Henry and Tina, David Spegal and Hannah Davis, respectively, did a great job as well.  It's a very dialogue-driven film, and all three of their performances are what make it worthwhile.

We discover that Henry is a guard at Arkham Asylum, and is one of only two people with a direct access key to The Joker (though the latter part isn't revealed until a little later).  Harley needs that key, and will do what it takes to get it.  She proceeds to try to beat the information out of Henry, but to no avail, and decides it's time to lay all the cards in the table, so to speak.  We learn that this isn't the first time Harley and Henry have met.  

As a sick initiation, new guards are sent to "seduce" a female nurse or doctor, by whatever means, whether they want it or not, and Henry chose Dr. Quinnzel.  We find out that this is the very event that pushes Harleen off the edge, resulting in her being fired from Arkham and murdering three of Henry's fellow guards, which we heard about at the beginning.  This is the point in the film where I realized that this story is dark and visceral, and that the director was not afraid to push the limits.

After this reveal, an angry Tina gives Harley the location of the key card.  Once Harley has what she came for, she decides it's Tina's turn to be honest, and we discover that she was having an affair.  It is inferred during this scene that the wine was the cause of their blackout, but it is still unclear as to whether Harley was the "new girl at work" who gave Tina the bottle, or if she took the opportunity to spike the wine while Tina was "otherwise preoccupied".  During this scene is the only time I spotted any abrupt edits in the film, of which there were only two.

After Tina admits to the affair, Harley tells them both that she's injected them with a fast acting toxin, created by The Joker, called Laughing Gas, which was another "HELLS YEAH!" moment for me.  The only thing about this part that I would have liked to have seen done differently was to have actually seen her administer the injections to Henry and Tina.  However, David and Hannah did a phenomenal job during the laughing scene, bring the level of dark creepiness way up.

Then we jump to the next day, as the police are on scene.  Commissioner James Gordon is there, and when he is shown the bodies of Henry and Tina, he realizes that this is no copycat killer, this was work of Harleen Quinnzel, and send every available unit to Arkham Asylum.  He then reveals to the audience that Harley has been presumed dead for the last two years, but no body was ever found.

The film ends with a disturbing scene of Henry and Tina in a bathtub, dead, holding hands, with smiles on their faces and the infamous line "Why So Serious?", from Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, scrawled in blood on the wall.  This was probably my favorite shot from the entire film.  

There was a lot to enjoy about this film, including some great performances and an amazing soundtrack.  I'm very excited for the next chapter in this series, which Jason revealed are in the works during an interview I had the honor of doing with him for DC Comics News.  "The goal is to do a 3 part series," said Jason, "each about 30 minutes in length, that would come together to become a feature length Harley Quinn film starting with The Killing Grin."

For more information on the making of this film, check out my interviews with Jason and Chelsea and be sure to check out and like the film's Facebook page.

If you have a short film or know of one you'd like to see featured on SHORT FILM SPOTLIGHT
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