The External World

The External World


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

If we treat The External World as a series of homages punctuating a pitch for a sketch show then it's not bad. Indeed, as a thing itself it's relatively entertaining, but so laden is it with references of varying degrees of obscurity that one finds oneself trying to spot them all rather than watching the film alone.

There's videogames, Mario, Pikachu, what's probably Grand Theft Auto, Animal Crossing, Gradius or maybe Galaga, a ghostly hand that might be the cursor from any number of Choose Your Own or Escape The Room adventures, what's probably Outrun but might be relatively lacklustre Mega-Drive title Lotus Challenge, and Portal. There's films, inevitably, a Mickey Mouse mask, Felix The Cat, Fritz The Cat too, and a smattering of other comics references. Krazy Kat and Ignatz appear in a rest home for black and white cartoon characters - Felix gets decapitated by the dotted line of covetous vision, what might be Itchy and Scratchy join in, and as the floor of the 'Retirement Castle' is covered with blood it's Animaniacs Yakko, Wakko (and Dot!) who occupy the sofas in the viewing room.

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There's sex, violence, jokes about 'dog years', blurred "genitals", head wounds, explosions, Verhoeven-ish or Cronenberg-ian shop fronts in the background, binary number-plates, drugs, more sex, more violence.

Initially the clean lines of the animation stand out, there's some good character design where it hasn't been borrowed, but we could bandy about phrases like memetic density and focus on the presence of YouTube analogues and 'viral videos' and autotuning of dialogue and a motion capture suit (animated, naturally) and a sequence 'shot' in Maya pre-visualisation. There are bits of A Clockwork Orange too, inevitably, a piano piece divorced from context and repeated so often it might be from the inventory screen of a Resident Evil game or the lobby of some online kill-fest.

It's well executed, voiced, a sitcom segment has the hollow laughter of canned audiences down pat, but its targets are soft, safe, staid. In television they refer to nostalgia shows with quasi-celebrity interludes as 'clips and cunts', and The External World isn't much different. It's amusing enough, demonstrates proficiency with animation tools, it does that 'edgy' dance, but for all its lariness it's 'mature' because it's got tits in. Between scalpel-warehouse and mushroom jokes it's like spending a half hour in the company of a 17 year old who has just discovered Red Bull.

It's less drawn to internet ephemera than Glasgow Short Film Festival stablemate The Barbarians, but even if you spend life wedded to the keyboard a goodly chunk of its references will pass you by. If it weren't for the fact that two people were involved it would be tempting to blame it on a lack of supervision. As it stands, Director David O'Reilly and co-writer Vernon Chatman could perhaps have done with someone not in on all the jokes. As it stands they've got potential, but what's been realised here falls short - in some places trying too hard, in others coasting. Certainly if you throw enough of anything at anything some of it will stick, but it's a bad approach in Tetris and it's as successful here.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2011
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An animated short about a boy learning to play the piano and to express himself in new ways.
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Director: David O’Reilly

Writer: Vernon Chatman, David O'Reilly

Year: 2010

Runtime: 18 minutes

Country: Germany


Glasgow 2011

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