One of the cool things about living in LA and being a film geek, and living and moving among them, is that you get to see things before everyone else sees them. Even before they hit You Tube, a cool little short might cross my path and I’ll get the first chance to tell everyone how cool it is. That happened again recently with a short film called “The Eyes of the Panther,” based on the Ambrose Bierce (yeah, an actual writer from the early 20th century) short story of the same name, this little film attempts to bring the recently lost idea of “story” and “character” back to the short film. Director Michael Barton and co-writer Taryn Reneau (who also gives a strong performance in the film) are here to remind us that the short story as film is still a viable art form. Not every damn short has to be a gimmicky and effects-laden “calling card” for some computer-whiz college student. How about an interesting story once in a while, huh? Well, Barton and Reneau just handed us one.

The story takes place in mid-1800s America and begins with the rejection of a marriage proposal. The woman claims she is insane and therefore cannot marry her suitor. When pressed for clarification, the haunting story unfolds mostly through flashback, of the girl’s parents, and about her birth, and about a strange occurrence involving a black panther that seems to be more than just an animal.

The budget was not large for this film, but the producers seemed to have put it all on the screen, it really has the look of a classy little horror picture, and it has a very nice film look although it was shot digitally. The performances are quite good all around. Barton chose to cast theater actors whose handling of period dialog adds much to the texture of the story. The film is quite short, at around 20 minutes, which is much shorter than the hour-long made-for-TV version from 1990 featuring C. Thomas Howell and Daphne Zuniga; this previous version is not well liked, and I can only assume that viewers familiar with it would probably find Barton’s version more interesting and satisfying. The ending might require a bit of discussion, it’s not spelled out for the viewer, and sometimes that’s kinda fun. Frankly I’d like to see this film pop on the Sundance Channel or IFC where it can be seen by more people, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Posted on October 9, 2006 in Reviews by

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