Dir. Hayden Hewitt
by Ellis Reed
Lips is a new short film from the recently established (2021) Black Octopus Productions, directed by Hayden Hewitt and written by David L. Hayles.
The latter’s short stories have earned him comparisons to Roald Dahl – the Independent on Sunday described them as ‘Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected adapted for the screen by Tarantino’ – and the new film is billed as follows:
‘In the manner of Tales of the Unexpected and twisted British anthology stories, Lips follows the curious events experienced by Michael, who learns that lending a sympathetic ear can have far-reaching consequences.’
The bulk of the film is the conversation between Michael (James Dreyfus) and an unnamed stranger (Paul Dewdney). The former is trying to enjoy a quiet drink in his preferred social club, while the latter, barefooted and bedraggled, has a story to get off his chest. The resulting narrative is part horror, part shaggy dog story, being a darkly amusing tale with shades of urban mythology.
In terms of cinematic scale, most of the runtime is given to an extended dialogue in a single location, making Lips a modestly proportioned film that would play very well on stage. A piece of this nature lives or dies on the strength of its acting, and Dreyfus and Dewdney do excellent work, with Dreyfus especially – unrecognisable from his days in Gimme Gimme Gimme and Thin Blue Line – giving a very nuanced character performance. Here he plays the role of the baffled everyman, being at first grumpy, then curious, then sceptical, then blind drunk in response to his unwelcome new friend. Dewdney’s role is more comical, and the contrast works really well.
The production values are high throughout, with the club being lit and photographed very nicely. The team do a great job bringing out the drowsy quality of the venue, making the whole conversation feel almost like a dream, or something you might imagine on the threshold of sleep. The score by Simon Lucas-Hughes is used sparingly and perfectly suits the oddball, universe-next-door tone of the piece.
You’re likely to guess a major reveal, but luckily, the story continues past this point – it’s not the ‘punchline’ – and there’s a very satisfying sting in the tail. My only (faint!) criticism is to say that, given the static nature of the film, Lips would possibly benefit from a sub-twenty minute runtime. That could heighten the impact of the short and make it an even more appealing proposition at festivals. However, the interplay between Dreyfus and Dewdney is a real strength of the film, so it’s hard to complain about getting more of it. Well worth a watch.
Lips is available to buy as a download for £1.50 or rental for £1.00, which is significantly cheaper than a pint at the social club. Start here for more information.