Vortex (2001)

Short films are so hard to find.

There was a bit of word of mouth going around about this film and director Michael Pohl’s earlier short film, Extinct, when I first started looking for films online.

And here it is, about Fifteen years since I first started looking for Vortex, and over Twenty years since it first came out, and I finally found not only the film, but a good set of English subtitles, something which was even more elusive.

Now the basic situation should seem more or less familiar.  In an increasingly violent future, Vincent is mugged on his way home one night and accidentally kills his attacker.  Society has done away with due process, however, and, after an absurd but speedy excuse for a trial, he is sentenced to the appalling secret prison called known as The Vortex, a place shrouded in complete mystery, as the authorities refuse to explain anything about it.

Except that once you go there, you never come back.

But what is even more horrible is that Vincent learns once he gets there that he is now expected to murder someone every week if he hopes to survive…

What really stands out about this little film is just how good it looks, thanks to the impressive sets and digital effects.  Even the tunnels full of deadly spider creatures are better than anything you’ll find in your typical B Movie from the early Nothings.  That’s actually quite impressive when you remember that this was Pohl’s graduation film from Film School.

Most reviewers have spoiled the big twist at the end.  I’m not going to do that, although I’ll admit that the name of the film does hint at a recent film which was a clear inspiration.

If you are expecting a fun little prison break adventure story, however, this is something darker and more thoughtful, which only gives us a tiny trickle of hope at the end.  It looks far better than any film school project from 2001 had any right to look, although it is true that good digital effects are a dime a dozen in student films these days.

But if you look at Pohl’s career since Vortex came out, you’ll note something which has sadly been true for too many young filmmakers who may have got a bit of attention for their film school projects (look, for example at Stuart Acher, whose wonderful short, Bobby Loves Mangoes was even endorsed by Roger Ebert!): despite all the attention, and even a German DVD release for Vortex, since then he has written a  lot of episodes for German TV shows, but hasn’t had any further opportunities to direct.

Oh, well.  At least most of the TV episodes he wrote were for police shows…

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