Written and directed by Rufus Chaffee (The Muse, Divine Intervention) The Trouble With Uncle Max is the darkest of black comedies. The short film deals with family problems, greed and unreal expectations. It is noteworthy that Chaffee has managed to cram so much into a 20 minute film.
Arianna Danae is Sonya, niece to Uncle Max (Bill Taylor) and lover of Joe (played by Nathaniel Sylva) and later, potential lover to Phil (Logan Lopez). She is unhappy looking after her uncle who appears to be rather well off.
Max is addicted to screwdrivers, cheese curls and television. He is also unpleasant, loud and demanding. Sonya has clearly had enough as she is trying to forge Max’s signature on a blank check when Joe arrives and parks next to a “no parking” sign.
In the first few seconds of the film, Chaffee shows us the three players and we understand everything about them. These are not people who follow the rules. Joe is delivering “untraceable” poison to his lover who appears to have some experience in this type of thing.
Sonya: “Nothing is untraceable, Joseph.”
Chaffee appears to be adding a twist on Rasputin. The Russian holy man who survived numerous attempts on his life all in one night. There are also sly nods to several films dealing with awkward old men, who happen to be well off.
(There is also one brilliant homage to A Fish Called Wanda. Only in this instance it is not the word stupid that acts as a trigger, it is “pr*ck.”)
Sonya and Joe appear to be made from the same bolt of cloth. She is desperate to get away from the old man and uses a like-minded individual to do so. However, in all reality, the girl and Max share much more in terms of personality traits.
She has inherited his ability to be annoyingly contrary. The “almost” sex scene is brilliantly done and shows the extent of her manipulatory skills. Sonya is, it seems, a walking, talking advertisement for passive aggression. Although she does have plenty of outright aggression as well.
The crux of the film is about how hard it is to kill someone, even an old man, when the spirit is so strong. (A more comic look at homicide than the 1966 Hitchcock example with Paul Newman in Torn Curtain.)
Sonya is a mass of contradictions. At one point she pulls out some hidden cigarettes and stands outside the house smoking. Joe arrives and says he was not aware that she smoked. “I don’t,” she replies flatly.
Max’s niece sees Joe, and later Phil, as an end to a means. Just as, one assumes, she took on the job of looking after her uncle. Max recognizes their one common trait, he tells Sonya that they are both hunters.
Bill Taylor is spot on as the irascible and very unpleasant Uncle Max. Danae plays the murderous niece almost effortlessly. She manages to make Sonya as unpleasant as Max, so much so that one wonders if she influenced her uncle, rather than Max influencing her.
Sylva plays the willing dupe quite well and Lopez makes the most out of his limited screen time.
Chaffee gives us an excellent tale put together very well. His female protagonist is easily as unpleasant as the potential murder victim.
The film looks and sounds brilliant. The lighting and the sound are spot on and the editing is also on track with the action and the storyline.
The Trouble With Uncle Max has a nice twist to it and despite being categorized as a crime/drama, there are enough darkly comic moments to elevate the film above these two genres.
This is a full 4 star film. (It loses one star for a scene transition that was, for this reviewer, hard to follow.) The Trouble With Uncle Max can be streamed and download via Vimeo. Just head over to the platform and type in The Trouble With Uncle Max.
There is also a short Q&A video and a slideshow with behind the scenes photographs and some storyboards. Head on over and have a look, or two at this splendid short film.