By Brett Cramer | Drama
A woman goes door-to-door and needs to make a sale. But one home is oddly quiet.

Jen is going door to door, trying to sell windows and siding. When she gets a lead and enters the home of a potential sale, she knows she must close the sale or else risk losing a job that she needs but doesn’t particularly want.

But the home that Jen finds herself in is shadowy and oddly hushed. A TV plays a video of some kind of spiritual leader named Samu, who says he’s a cosmic entity in the body of a man that has recently left the world. And the woman who owns the home is strange as well, devoted to Samu but catatonic with his loss.

Despite this, Jen continues to press the sale, even as the woman proceeds to tell her how Samu helped her through the grief of losing her husband. As the woman and Jen talk, the two find themselves entangled in an encounter that reveals the depths of both women’s desperation — one for a messiah, another for a sale.

Written and directed by Brett Cramer, this quietly eccentric short drama is a master class of juggling tones and themes, built on a foundation of excellent writing, script and direction. The situation of a hapless, eager salesperson trying to sell the mundane to a potentially brainwashed cult member has comic potential, but the storytelling plays it also as an exploration of human needs for meaning and connection — all while shooting it with a burnished, dark visual approach that is almost like Gothic horror in certain shots and sequences. The result of layering these visual and emotional textures is a story that is funny, philosophical, cynical and resonant.

Much of the narrative’s initial impact comes from the terrific dialogue, which finds a deft balance between funny neurotic verbosity and moments of emotional struggle. The humor and conflict come from the differences between Jen and her potential sales target. Jen exists in the world of deadlines, quotas, closings and contracts, a mundane milieu of paperwork and stress. Her client mentally lives on another planet and watching actor Meg Cashel navigate the gulf while trying to get what she wants is very funny.

It’s a terrific performance, imbued with both crack comic timing, tightly-wound characterization and a well of deep empathy, which comes into play when her sales target breaks down, believing Jen is the latest reincarnation of Samu. How Jen navigates this latest turn — and reacts to the raw human need and loneliness in front of her — is deeply moving, turning a mundane everyday encounter into something oddly luminous and transcendent.

“Samu” is a transfixing, resonant short, balancing dark, ironic absurdity with earnest humanism. Both Jen and her customer are embroiled in the small battles of life, whether it’s a dead-end job or a cult without a leader. And though they seem very different, they are both struggling. The film ends with a proclamation from Samu that we are all here on Earth to help one another. We get the sense that this is a sincere conviction of the film’s worldview. But the conduits of both the message and the help can be ridiculous, bizarre, odd and even freakish, as befitting the nature of humans themselves. Yet, despite our own ridiculousness, we find moments to give and get grace at even the strangest of times — which is perhaps when we need them the most.

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