Intake

By Eric Otten | Drama
A high schooler must complete a drug and alcohol abuse evaluation after an incident.

After a questionable incident with her peers, high school senior Jamie is forced to complete an addiction assessment at a drug and alcohol recovery center. Nonchalant, smart, and confident, she knows exactly what to say to avoid trouble.

Jamie meets with LeAnn, who is conducting the evaluation. But LeAnn is seasoned and experienced, and as the pair size each other up, a formulaic evaluation evolves into an unexpected conversation.

Written and directed by Eric Otten, this compelling short drama takes a situation where two people size one another up and get to know each other quickly. In the compressed specific format of the drug and alcohol intake, it asks if we can truly know someone well enough in such personal yet forensic situations, and how.

The storytelling is pared down to the most essential elements of narrative: two people in a room, talking. But the short's superb writing endows each character with great specificity, making clear what's at stake what each perspective and character need is. Each beat matters, and with terrific visual acuity, each shot captures a small but telling detail, whether it's the smoke surrounding Jamie as she walks into the clinic, a seemingly off-hand gesture or a scrutinizing look at a critical moment.

The conversation begins with a series of simple mental tests. The intake seems to be "by the book," but as the interaction evolves, it takes an intriguing turn, as we wonder if Jamie will outsmart the counselor. As the pair circle around what happened in the troubling incident that got Jamie in trouble in the first place, the talk becomes more heated, like an interrogation. But before LeAnn can ratchet up the intensity on an increasingly rattled Jamie, there's an interruption, which allows for a more personal detour -- as well as an opportunity.

Actors Sara Kamine and Lindsay B. Davis rise to the challenge of bringing the film's seemingly facile dialogue to life, each warily playing the roles set out for them at the start, and both play off one another beautifully. Their performances have precision and depth, peeling back the layers of the initial dynamic and revealing a more personal connection.

At least, that's what it seems, until the final movements of "Intake" reveal a more subtle game of cat-and-mouse at work, one where we see just how clever each character is. It ends with a terrific series of emotional chess moves that culminates with an ironic, deeply satisfying final play -- and a perfect ending to a tightly constructed, deftly woven battle of wills.




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