Indie Shorts: HERE LIES JOE (2016, dir. Mark Battle)

HERE LIES JOE (2016) is a dark romantic comedy about a suicidal couple. If that sounds somehow wrong to you, you’ve missed the point. If suicide happens because it seems to be the only option left, what happens to a suicidal person when another option appears?

The story (by writer-director Mark Battle and co-writer Pamela Conway) is a vignette from the life of the titular Joe (Dean Temple). He’s “in transition” after losing a presumably happy life as a married man and English teacher.

We’re not sure how he lost this life, but now he’s living in his beat-up old Toyota with his remaining earthly possessions. The dark circles under his eyes are just one of the stigmata of his deep depression. The film sets up his dilemma early by starting with a scene from late in the second act: Joe’s suicide attempt.

In the flashback of subsequent scenes, Joe makes a last-ditch effort to stave off his growing urge to kill himself by visiting a meeting of Suicide Anonymous, a 12-step, self-help group for chronically suicidal people. On the day he drops in, the group’s leader is Bill (Timothy J. Cox).

Bill and the other group members are comically dysfunctional. Besides Bill, two of them interact directly with Joe. Carol (Mary Hronicek) is a tearful older woman who tells Joe that she tried to kill herself twice with an overdose of multivitamins. Z (Andi Morrow), whose sassy and irreverent demeanor puts the viewer in mind of Elizabeth Wurtzel, points out that it’s impossible to die using this method.

Z gives Joe a dose of attitude, but it’s just her way of flirting. Her demand for a ride home is the beginning of a relationship with Joe. She takes him on an adventure that involves well-shot scenes in highly textured locations, accentuated by a moody acoustic guitar score, lending the perfect atmosphere to the couple’s tenuous new alliance. Still, both have plans to end their lives soon.

They exchange mobile phone numbers and promise to keep in touch. But when they get together again, will it be in this life or the afterlife? You’ll have to watch the short — and you should — to find out.

HERE LIES JOE is currently on the film festival circuit. It had its festival premiere at the Monadnock International Film Festival on April 15th. Check the Sweven Films Facebook page for information on future screenings.

Disclosure: Timothy J. Cox provided Loud Green Bird with access to an online screener of the film to facilitate this solicited review. No financial considerations were involved.