From the moment we recognize that everyone at this Oregon commune is dressed the same, it’s obvious that Guy 3 (Tom Cullen) and Lady 18 (Tatiana Maslany) are part of a cult. But that’s not what drives “Souls of Totality,” the short directed by Richard Raymond that showed at Cinequest as part of Maslany’s Maverick Spirit Award night. It’s a love story between two people who have no business falling in love. And it’s also a short film built around a gimmick — a film shot during last summer’s eclipse — that transcends the gimmick. It’s just a good film.
To some extent it fits as science fiction, though like the Mindbender short “Contact,” it’s in the idea, not in any spectacle around it. Everyone’s affable, and taking an impending mass suicide as a casual thing. Guy 3 takes orders for last earthly treats from the cultists who seemingly come from every walk of life. When darkness covers Oregon, they will ascend to …something, and for them, that’s even more joyous than a rapturous sip of Diet Coke. (What? One guy really just likes Diet Coke.)
Cinematographer Jaren Blaschke pulls off some impressive shots, even as Raymond almost makes us miss them because the story has us distracted. And that’s how it should be. We’re drawn to Maslany’s performance, and though her real-life partner Cullen has some charisma, “Souls of Totality” really belongs to her.
It’s another short that makes me wish for a science fiction anthology series that could be a showcase for ideas that didn’t need to fill a feature, an hour, or even a half hour. “Souls of Totality” is about 17 minutes, and that’s all the cast and crew needed to tell their satisfying story. Cinequest was early on in its festival circuit, so there’s still a chance to catch it somewhere. And as always, if it shows up online, we pledge to run it. For reasons I don’t want to give away, there’s also no doubt that it works better on a big screen. Catch it if you can.