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Short film Cost of Living delivers thrills in a shortened period

While film titles like “The Big Shave,” “Amblin” and “Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB” may not be familiar to most readers, these short films that helped launch the careers of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas, respectively.

These days, a well-made short film can catch the attention of producers looking for fresh talent, like “Hesher” director Spencer Susser did with his 2008 short “I Love Sarah Jane.” It not only boosted his profile, but also that of “Alice in Wonderland” star Mia Wasikowska.

Another short film is now gaining attention from both film journalists and cinephiles alike, entitled “Cost of Living,” which is an unconventional take on the sort of workplace comedies made famous by features like “Office Space” and “Waiting.”

The short follows two security guards who experience a bad night on the job for a mysterious corporation that may be home to some rather eerie inhabitants. Silas (Brandon Routh) is a no-nonsense civil servant who just wants to do his job and go home, while Jerry (Bret Harrison) insistently yearns out loud about his hopes for a better life away from his current locale.

This is writer-director BenDavid Grabinski’s first credited outing as filmmaker, and while the writing and directing is patchy at times, he plays the film like a sci-fi version of “Office Space” with a healthy dose of “Ghostbusters.” While the audience is aware that supernatural creatures are running amok while Jerry and Silas are on the job, listening to the duo’s banter is enjoyable enough without having ever to see a slimy creature or “werechildren.”

Grabinski forgoes the recent concept that short films belong on YouTube, created by amateur film enthusiasts with no sense of story or filmmaking voice. “Cost of Living” finds an instantly relatable character in Jerry as he moans about how unhappy he is in his current state, then allows the visual flair and deadpan humor of the short show itself, never overtaking the characters with spectacle.

Another recent short film that generated some major attention was “Portal: No Escape,” by commercial director and film blogger Daniel Trachtenberg, which provided a real life interpretation of the popular videogame series “Portal.” The short, while well made and sleek, lacked much depth beyond handsome visuals and kinetic action direction.

Trachtenberg has since landed a job directing the Universal Studios heist thriller “Crime of the Century,” produced by “Wanted” and “Fast Five” screenwriter Chris Morgan, so one could hope that “Cost of Living” could generate some feature for Grabinski based on quality alone.

Praise is also reserved for actors Routh and Harrison, who portray Jerry and Silas well as two individuals whose primary goal in life is to survive to the end of their shifts, literally. When the two are pitted against potentially diabolic offspring from the lab’s work, they manage to maintain their poise.

Routh, who’s been a precious commodity in Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” and the recent “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World,” has had an awful strung of films as of late, including the needless horror-comedy “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night.” The short is a showcase for his range as an actor, seamlessly going from hard-boiled to sympathetic with ease.

Harrison, who’s best know for a brief role in 2002’s “Orange County” and the short-lived television series “Reaper,” is the centerpiece here as Jerry. He manages to play the role of a whiney dweeb well, without ever crossing over to self-parody, or worse, becoming obnoxious.

There’s also a cameo by “The Thing” and “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who uses a monotone voice to play the announcer on the building’s overhead speaker, providing several moments of inspired laughter.

Grabinski strikes a balance between manic comedy in the vein of “Shaun of the Dead” director Edgar Wright’s work and a solemn tone in the face of potentially ridiculous creatures, much in the way a helmer like John Carpenter or James Cameron would.

“Cost of Living” ends with the script, “Silas and Jerry may return in ‘Cost of Living 2: The Nebraska Clusterf—,'” but chances are this is simply Grabinski musing on the idea of these character’s return. While talk of a feature-length “Cost of Living” is sure to spring up, hopefully Grabinski will move on to broadening his storytelling horizons, as “Cost of Living” proves he holds promise.

COST OF LIVING from BenDavid Grabinski on Vimeo.