The film opens with a horrifying double murder. We can’t quite determine who the murderer is. He’s stall, lean, and he knows exactly what he’s doing, but as we only see him from behind – the camera tracks him walking the street at a brisk pace – we never see his face. With brazen confidence, he walks into a house, enters a bedroom, pulls a knife, and goes to work on an unsuspecting man and woman who never had a chance. It’s a bloody, gruesome opening that immediately shocks; another knife crime in a country plagued by knife crimes. Cut to Parker and Frankie.
In the new English indie drama from writer/director Richard Anthony Dunford, two cops sit in a car. It’s night. They’re off the beaten path, parked quietly in the woods. “Got a tip-off this fella’s making a deal tonight,” says Parker (Judson Vaughan) to his partner Frankie (Karl Kennedy-Williams). No back up required. It’s just them on a stakeout. That’s it. All they have to do is sit there, watch, and wait. It’s going to be a long night.
Dragonflies Only Live for 24 Hours tells a twisting tale of two policemen who like to do things their way. While framed by the long night of sitting, waiting, and talking shop to pass the time, through a series of flashbacks, you learn how Parker and Frankie rose through the ranks. You see them starting out as uniformed police, having to investigate bogus calls, receiving the disappointing news of not getting a promotion, then later the joy of finally achieving one.
But as things develop you soon see a certain pattern developing. Neither cops are above bending the law to ultimately get the results they want. There’s entrapment, witness tampering, the planting of evidence, all the kinds of things that make life difficult for the other cops, the ones that are straight and can’t quite fit the pieces together when it comes to Parker and Frankie. “When you get your hands dirty, does it really matter how stained they get?” asks Frankie. Ultimately, they’re the kind of cops you wouldn’t want to know.
The film looks and sounds good. The camera lingers on well-framed characters, giving audiences the opportunity to explore the screen. Antony Meadley’s widescreen cinematography makes excellent use of the Sussex area locations, while interior shots favor neon-lit nightclubs with some scenes bathed in green, reds, or purple. Coupled with Connor O’Brien’s effectively atmospheric music, there’s a slow, dreamlike quality creating an uncomfortable sense that something foreboding is always lurking on the horizon.
The acting ranges from good to very good, with one particularly effective performance from Bhasker Patel as the father of a murder victim. When told by Parker that when the police catch whoever committed the crime, the killer will be put away for a very long time, the distraught father remains unhappy. In a brief but moving piece of dialog, he tells the policeman that through his taxes, the father will be paying for his daughter’s murderer to have a roof over the killer’s head while being served three square meals a day. It’s not enough. The closure is missing.
Through a series of mostly short subject films, Richard Anthony Dunford has honed his movie-making craft in all areas, including working as an editor, a cinematographer, a producer, a composer. He’s even worked in the editorial and casting departments. In Dragonflies, he’s the writer/director, meaning that in the end, either the success or the failure of the film begins and ends with him. The setup and the framing device is good, but results are often mixed with some of the scenes coming across as sluggish.
An exchange in a restaurant feels leaden and lacks atmosphere. There’s little ambient noise to create a sense of activity in the hustle and bustle of a public place. And after that shocking opening where a hand-held follows an unidentified killer into a house, the film can never quite repeat that same sense of urgency in anything that follows. Plus there’s a twist to the tale at the end of the long night in the car that when it comes doesn’t quite surprise in the way that it should. But then Dunford adds an extra, unexpected sting to follow which suddenly helps resolve the feeling that now the film has ended on exactly the right note. The final fade-out is both impressive and sobering.
It’s doubtful you’ll see Dragonflies Only Live for 24 Hours at your multiplex anytime soon. The low-budget independent feature is currently doing the festival circuit and looking for more outlets. But by all accounts, it’s creating a stir, and with good reason. Shot as a labor of love in 27 days at different times throughout the year, the film succeeds in creating an ominous tone of corruption. Rather than boosting the achievements of its two central characters, that tone falls on their shoulders like a crushing burden, continually bringing them down, only they can’t stop. Their lives are spiraling out of control, yet they can’t see it. They’re toxic not only to everyone around them but to each other.
In a film based on themes of loyalty and corruption, Dragonflies can also be viewed as a morality tale that comes with a warning. As Frankie in his southeastern English accent might say, “Being a bent copper’s no good, ‘coz in the end, karma’s a bitch.”
MPAA Rating: NR (not rated) Length: 87 Minutes