By Indy Dang | Drama
A teen is bullied in private school, then rebels when his older brother returns home.

Cal is a 16-year-old private school student who achieves high grades and is in many ways a model son. But he struggles with his identity and doesn't fit in at school, and is often the target of other students' persecution.

When his older brother suddenly drops out of college and returns home, Cal explores a freer, more rebellious side of life -- but it puts him on a collision course to damaging his future altogether and tear their family apart.

Written and directed by Indy Dang, this compelling short drama has teen protagonists, and stereotypically adolescent themes of identity and rebellion power its well-paced narrative forward. But it achieves a richness and resonance through the emotional depth of its writing and performances, creating a story that pulls at viewers' sympathy, even as the plot and characters grow ore complicated.

The film's mood begins with its weathered, burnished look. Muted naturalism and a moodiness in its light and color signal a more serious approach to the milieu, capturing something of the somberness and grit of New England. Within this background, the narrative situates this story of two brothers, who form a classic pair of opposing forces.

Cal is the straight-arrow, low-maintenance high achiever who wins praise, while his brother Landon is the rebellious, angry troublemaker. Landon's arrival back home threatens the family equilibrium that reveals the dysfunction of its dynamics. His renewed bond with Cal also sets off a chain of events engrossing in the story's willingness to engage deeply in its characters' longings, vulnerabilities and flaws.

Young actors Kyle Brier and Samuel Blustein play Cal and Landon, respectively, with a depth and maturity that gives them precision and fluency with the thornier aspects of their characters. Cal begins to explore his rebellious side, where he feels freer to explore who he is, while Landon starts to embrace his favored brother again. These two arcs are intertwined, informing one another in a way that only siblings who are friends are able -- but which also leads to unpredictable consequences that threaten the family and Cal's future.

"Influence" is ultimately a story about fellowship, friendship and the uniquely intense, fraught but fiercely loyal bond between brothers, a story told with a remarkable level of emotional engagement, especially for a short. Continually engaging and powerful to watch, viewers come to care for these characters, even when they make potentially catastrophic mistakes and decisions. An aching, yearning empathy is the brothers' gift to one another -- as well as the story's gift to the audience.

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