Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Western Steampunk lives in Nickel Children!

The first scene in Kevin Eslinger's short film Nickle Children is like something out of the Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. A family meal is interrupted by the arrival of a sinister character we come to know as the Sheriff, played by Jeremy Snowden. After sitting down and helping himself to the family's food, an act of violence ends with a boy, Jack (Easton Lee McCuiston), being stolen away into the night. Unfortunately the scene wants to be stronger than it winds up being. Tarantino tried the same homage to Leone in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds and came up equally short. It doesn't reflect the quality of the films, its just that Leone is a hard act to follow...how can you top something that has already achieved its apogee?

Made on a shoe string budget, Nickle Children is quite good, despite its opening scene. Clocking in at about 16 minutes, the film follows Jack as he tries to survive, and eventually escape a child slavery and prostitution ring with the help of an Airship Captain and her companion. Its a very serious subject matter with some genuinely heartbreaking scenes. While the kidnapped girls are being forced into prostitution, the boys are forced to fight in bloody cage matches while the adults bet on the outcome.

Nickel Children takes place in (or near) Dust Bowl, Kansas in 1885. The Union Army has lost the Civil War and its now the Confederate States of America; however very little information is given to specifics for the film. What IS know, however, is that this is an American West populated by Steam Powered gadgets, flying machines, and Flesh Golems.....and its from this world that we meet Anastasia, the presumed heroine of the film. We first glimpse her at the cage fights the boys are having. She pops up every once in a while, helping Jack by giving him tools to escape the chicken wire cages him and the other children are trapped in, and its her who takes on the Flesh Golem and the Sheriff's men in arguably my favorite scene in the movie.

In fact all of the principle actors did a very good job in their roles with Amanda Bailey as the standout performance. She makes Anastasia into a dynamic, ass kicking Steampunk heroine.

For an independently financed film, Nickle Children actually uses its money wisely. The set design, while sparse, is effective in conveying its back alley setting. An appropriately dirty basement is a perfect place for the cages the kids are locked up in. Most of the money looks like it went towards the Sheriffs lushly decorated quarters with its fabric'd walls and statuary; There is a giant clock imbedded into one of the walls. Pictures of the characters and sets can be found HERE, and you'll see what I mean about the clock!

In fact besides characters and sets, the costume designs are very well done with Anastasia, her companion Dr. Montague, and a character called The Ringmaster's costumes being particular standouts. The rest of the cast of background players is filled out with members of the local Steampunk community in Atlanta and Nashville, where the film was shot. Steampunks can always be counted on to deliver, and they don't disappoint.

Eslinger is hoping to eventually turn the film into a Web series or feature film. Until then, however, he's focusing on other mediums like comics to tell the story of Anastasia, Jack, Dr. Montague and the Airship Zephyr. I hope he succeeds, I found myself really enjoying the main characters in the film and, as they walked away into the distance in the final scene, I found myself wondering where it went from here.

Until then however, the DVD is coming out soon, you can keep an eye out for it at the films official SITE. They also have a Facebook page, and a YouTube channel

Also, Paul Green over at the Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns site just did a really good interview with Kevin Eslinger and did a review himself.

Here's the extended Sizzle reel to give you a better idea of how the whole thing comes together:

I agree with Paul's assessment. When Weird Westerns tend to be so consumed with the walking dead, its refreshing to see a film that takes the genre into a different direction.

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