Review: DeKalb Elementary (2017)

DeKalb Elementary (2017)

Directed by: Reed Van Dyk | 21 minutes | short film, drama | Actors: Bo Mitchell, Tarra Riggs, Shinelle Azoroh, John Brockus, Deloris Crenshaw, Brie Eley, Jason Fracaro, Sinora Glenn, Del Hunter-White, Levystein Lockett, Peyton R. Perrine III, Lony’e Perrine, Champange Powell, Hansford Prince , Tobie Windham

‘DeKalb Elementary’ is an intense and haunting film about Steven Hall (Bo Mitchell), a confused man with an automatic weapon who walks into an elementary school and threatens those in the front office. He chases other employees away until he is left alone with receptionist Cassandra Rice (Tarra Riggs). A dialogue develops between the two, during which she tries to get through to the young man with her empathy and he starts to doubt the correctness of his actions. Steven’s mental instability makes him unpredictable, and while Cassandra does exactly what he asks of her, such as calling the police and relaying a message over the intercom to the classrooms where everyone is hiding, she makes frantic efforts to appeal to his humanity and help. to seek instead of sowing death and destruction.

With the frequent shootings at American schools in mind, a film like this gets extra weight — all the more so because ‘DeKalb Elementary’ is based on a true incident in the US state of Georgia. Director Reed van Dyk used the real recording of the conversation with the 911 emergency operator and footage from the nearby security camera. The makers have reproduced the conversation between the two – who in reality have a different name – as literally as possible to make the whole thing come across as authentic. Partly because of the claustrophobic setting – apart from a few shots, the film takes place entirely in the same room – and Mitchell’s nervous walking back and forth, making the film ‘edge-of-your-seat’ exciting.

However, the film is carried by the two protagonists: Bo Mitchell and Tarra Riggs. What the makers do well is give both actors the space to pull out all the stops. It’s not hard to sympathize with Riggs’ character, who tries to save her own life and that of the children and teachers at the school. Van Dyk emphasizes how alone she is. Lonely even, in front of a young man with an AK-47 in his hands, which is reinforced by her telephone line to the outside world. It soon becomes clear that Mitchell’s character Steven may be even lonelier.

Both actors deserve praise for their portrayal: Mitchell as the confused Steven, who may evoke pity, but also ensures that when you as a viewer you also delete a possible explosion of violence. However, the undisputed star of ‘DeKalb Elementary’ is Tarra Riggs, who has a very convincing and penetrating role. Her Cassandra is clearly terrified, but outwardly appears as calm as possible to appease the would-be shooter and prevent a massacre. At the same time, on the phone with the emergency services, she tries to prevent Steven from being shot dead by the police. It’s an impressive acting performance.

The film only lasts 20 minutes – short enough to maintain the tension, but paradoxically the film manages to get under your skin and at the end you still wish it would last longer. ‘DeKalb Elementary’ collected numerous awards at international film festivals and was even nominated for an Oscar in the category ‘best short film’. That honor passed to ‘DeKalb Elementary’: it was ‘The Silent Child’ who went home with the coveted statue.

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