Every relationship harbours secrets, some darker than others. When blackmailed for his, James (David Chin) races against time to keep his unsuspecting wife Simone (Danni Ai) in the dark. Not a word is spoken in the ten-minute short Message Received. Rather, dialogue happens solely through an on-screen exchange of text messages.
It works. Director Stephen Herman packs all necessary detail taut in every frame of the immersive mystery, built on a compelling amount of ambiguity. James’ concurrent message threads with his unknown blackmailer and wife aggrandise the tense situation, adding friction to his fragile relationship fractured by lies.
Such well-used visuals are outshone by its feature-quality sound design. Every little sound is purposeful, as is the silence between. Initially minimal audio gradually lets in a soft percussive pulsing, building up suspense by the drip. Low synth notes sharpen by the second, before eventually swelling into a more atmospheric score.
This effectively births an ominous ambience, teasing the gripping questions of James’ secrets and more intriguingly, the texter’s seemingly dangerous identity. The winding road keeps our attention unwavering, and leads on to satisfying answers behind his duplicity.
Special thanks to director Stephen Herman and Broken Box, Inc. for sharing this short film with me.