Having a short film stick with audiences is a tough row to hoe. For whatever reason they're judged much more harshly than features, and in that respect, they don't even get the benefit of having a super opinionated viewer spread their negative toxins (even the worst feature will warrant a one-star IMDB review — like they say, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”). Not to defend the form blindly: they're often nothing more than a calling card or stepping stone to something longer and more expensive, rarely utilizing the short-form structure in an appropriate way or feeling at all complete as its own being.
Sometimes they’re a style-over-substance gimmick or a feature squeezed into 15 or 20 minutes (don't even get us started on short films with A-List actors in them). "Style-over-substance gimmick" could probably be hurled at Doron Max Hagay's "Erica Wexler Is Online" (featured on the great website “Short Of The Week”) with one sight of the logline, but the humorous, melancholic faux-documentary is actually quite a moving experience and has plenty to say about the current generation's placid relationship with social networking websites.
After being taken from this world at too young an age, the fictional Erica Wexler continues to operate her Facebook page from the grave, offering advice and telling the future for those lucky enough to be on her friends list. “What stuck with me about the concept was the twist it offered on the classic ghost story. Asking a metaphysical question, what if the dead spoke to us, but not in person? It's not as if the ghost is coming and touching your shoulder and whispering in your ear, you just get a message on your wall or in your inbox. The dead are de-fanged,” explained Hagay.
It's something extraordinary, and a thing everyone has an opinion on: former classmates ("The Hunger Games" fans: check out a naturalistic, comfortable performance by Brooke Bundy, who plays Octavia in the hit YA films), boyfriends, neighbors, and even mere acquaintances are interviewed about this phenomenon, though few have any idea as to why or how this is happening (one or two offer up their suspicions that end up holding little water). It does lead to some hilarious, deadpan wall exchanges which are reproduced on the screen one comment at a time, from Erica telling a friend she got into Ramapo College to warning ex-boyfriend Ian that his latest main squeeze has herpes. It's not all fun and games, though, and an exchange between Erica and her mother is downright heartbreaking — the pacing of the comments and the weighty, simplistic writings contain more heart, for our money, than any short we've ever seen.
Though it works well as a stand alone, concise oddity, “Erica Wexler Is Online” was adapted from a short-story and originally envisioned as something longer. “It was conceived as a feature length screenplay. When I wrote it I was probably two years out of college and I had a strong feeling that this was the one to make. So to be able to do that feasibly, I broke the feature script into six parts and produced the first part, which is the movie online right now,” stated Hagay. “I recently saw a few episodes of 'The Beauty Inside' directed by Drake Doremus (also featured on “Short Of The Week”), and it employs a now classic short form episodic structure that I think would work really nicely for Erica Wexler.” Plans are being made to expand the world of ‘Wexler,’ and though they might be somewhat far off, it’s something the film’s new fans can look forward to.
It's a quick and powerful watch, and you can check it out right here. For those that can't get enough, Hagay has plenty of other smart films under his belt, including short "Acting" and feature "Perfect Thoughts," both part of his experiments with mini DV and both fantastic. Hungry for more Erica Wexler? You can add her on Facebook, but FYI… she's dead.