By Christopher Campbell | Spout May 24, 2011 at 4:56AM
Adapting short films into features is nothing new, but lately it's seeming more and more common for a short to be produced intentionally as a kind of practice run for a later long-form version. Filmmaker Will Canon may not have completely planned for his award-winning NYU film, "Roslyn," to serve as the opening to an extended story, but he does admit to originally having had more ideas he couldn't fit into only eight minutes. So, after making a few more shorts over the last decade, he delivered "Brotherhood," which is not only nearly ten times longer; it's also ten times better.
The short involves a clever concept of a fraternity pledge prank gone wrong, yet it ends rather flaccidly with little consequence. It's all flat punchline, whereas with "Brotherhood," which was co-scripted by Doug Simon, Canon follows through with the punch you wanted from the original: a convenience store robbery dare results in a frat pledge (a barely recognizable Lou Taylor Pucci) getting shot. From there the film snowballs into the kind of unbelievably out-of-control drama we should now fully expect from something involving underrated actor Trevor Morgan ("Jurassic Park III"; "Mean Creek"). I'm certain he will star in the next inevitable thriller where a stripper accidentally dies during a bachelor party. He's so perfect for this kind of moral dilemma stuff, on either side of the ethical line.
Kidnappings, car accidents and plenty more intense situations ensue, mostly as chain-reaction effects -- some of them sort of on the coincidental side -- of the original prank. You could easily see this kind of escalating action used for a comedy -- like "The Hangover" model -- but that would not be nearly as engrossing. Nor would it be as much of a damning look at frat life. Most of the film's intensity comes thanks to terrific performances from the ensemble, though particularly Morgan and Jon Foster (who has grown quite well since "The Door in the Floor"). It's also structured really well, keeping you on your toes and playing with your expectations. Things you think will come into play later might not; others you have forgotten circle back around. In fact, much of the suspense and surprise works best on what must have been precise consideration of what the viewer is thinking about at any given moment.
Unfortunately, one thing Canon can't seem to get right is endings. He missed out terribly with "Rosyln" but remedied the problem for "Brotherhood" -- until its own conclusion, that is. Now I need an extended version of this film to fix its ending, as well. No, actually "Brotherhood" needs to be a few minutes shorter so the intensity continues right up to the credits. Instead, as is, it's too neatly and morally summed up and leaves you with a bitter aftertaste. I honestly haven't been this disappointed with an ending in a very long time. Hopefully he'll learn with his next feature, which I hear will be adapted from another of his shorts, "Youngster" (see that one here). For the meantime, "Brotherhood" is definitely worth a look for the 70 minutes it gets right.
Watch "Roslyn" below and then rent "Brotherhood" for the improved version.
"Brotherhood" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Recommended If You Like: "11:14"; "Mean Creek"; "Jawbreaker"