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The Independent Critic

Dana Dancho, Elysia Annacini, David Barckhoff, Liam Birchler
Kristen Lauth Shaeffer

 "Mercury in Tuna" Review 
The first thought that popped into my head following my viewing of Kristen Lauth Schaeffer's terrific short film Mercury in Tuna was that it would be a marvelous companion piece for Sharon Wright's award-winning short Change for a Dollar.

Wright's film poignantly follows the steps of a rather unexpected man who finds rather amazing ways to make a difference in the lives of others with just one dollar. It's a simple yet powerful reminder of just how easy it is to make a difference in the world.

Mercury in Tuna is different.

Avery Sutton (Dana Dancho) is a seemingly normal young woman who lives a life governed by her fears. It would appear that she fears most everything, from a violent crime to an environmental illness to, well, even the basics of human interaction. One evening, a stranger asks her for help and she refuses. It's a refusal that will haunt her for quite some time, and it's a refusal that leads her to begin questioning the choices she's making in her life.

In a film that runs just shy of ten minutes in length, writer/director Kristen Lauth Schaeffer makes the wise choice of not serving up a lot of background on the compelling character of Avery.

Was there something that happened to her that has made her so fearful?

Why is she guarded to the point of paranoia?

Mercury in Tuna plants the questions, but it doesn't take the easy way out by spoon-feeding the audience any black-and-white answers. Instead, we're simply given an attractive and functional woman who, for whatever reason, has become fearful almost to the point of paralysis.

This is not an easy performance and Dana Dancho handles it quite beautifully. Dancho simultaneously elicits sympathy a sense of dread, with her character at times coming off as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly and at other times appearing to be on the edge of taking her newly discovered sense of liberation a wee bit too far. The film's closing scene, which feels both a tad jarring and like a bit of an exorcism, actually had me flashing back to the Michael Douglas film Falling Down.

D.P. David Hall lenses the film with an eye towards the dual nature of Avery. He expertly incorporates shadows in such a way that you're constantly wondering if this is a comedy or a drama or a thriller or whatever.

The answer would be "Yes."

I laughed during Mercury in Tuna. I jumped during Mercury in Tuna. I held my breath during Mercury in Tuna and, perhaps most impressively, after the film was over I still found myself wondering what I'd just seen and analyzing to death the character of Avery. That's a sign of a terrific script, a terrific lead performance and production quality that never distracted from the story that was unfolding. Alexa Racquel Casciato's original music only enhanced the entire affair, perfectly accentuating both the film's lighter moments and dramatic depths. Quite simply, kudos must be given to the entire team for producing a film that leaves a lasting impact and ongoing questions long after the closing credits have rolled.

According to IMDB, this is Kristen Lauth Schaeffer's third time helming a short film and her first time writing the script. One can only hope that Hollywood gets smart and gives her more to work with and, as well, pays attention to Dancho's excellent work here.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic