Short films can convey entire worlds within minutes through their creative use of visuals and succinct storytelling. As both an art form and a medium, short films have seen a major surge in popularity on video sites and festivals in recent years.
Writing reviews of short films serve multiple useful purposes. For viewers, it provides helpful critique and analysis to evaluate a film’s strengths and weaknesses before watching.
For aspiring filmmakers and students, reviews can provide insights into how to craft compelling stories and technical execution. For festivals and competitions, judges have to write critiques.
So how exactly should you critique a short film and write an effective review? Follow the guidelines below to cover all the key elements.
Watch Closely and Take Notes
Start by viewing the short film once or twice to grasp the full experience. Resist the urge to be distracted by your phone or laptop during the screening, since shorts require close attention to detail.
Take notes during each viewing on aspects you notice:
- Themes and messages
- Character personalities and motivations
- Plot points and story structure
- Unique visuals and cinematography
- Use of lighting and color
- Sound, music, and editing choices
- Your emotional reactions to key scenes
Pay attention to subtleties like costumes, props, and set design that might provide additional context. Your notes will provide the evidence to back up your analysis later.
Analyze All the Key Elements
A short film review should examine each of the main aspects individually to assess their effectiveness. Consider the categories below when analyzing:
Story and Plot
- Is there a clear narrative arc or does it feel meandering?
- Do character motivations and actions make logical sense?
- Does the pace feel appropriate or does it drag at points?
- Does the short have a theme or message that shines through?
Acting and Characters
- Do actors deliver performances that are nuanced and believable for the genre?
- Are characters sufficiently developed with backstories and unique motivations?
- Do relationships between characters have an emotional impact?
- Do stylistic choices like angles, movement, and framing enhance the film’s vision?
- Are visuals striking and colorful if intended to be, or gritty and moody if that fits the storyline better?
- Do transitions between scenes flow cohesively?
Light and Color
- Is lighting utilized effectively to set the tone and mood?
- Do choices in the color palette align with the overall atmosphere and emotions?
Sound and Editing
- Does the musical score fit well and accent important moments?
- Are sound effects well balanced with dialogue?
- Does pacing create through editing build excitement or tension?
Identify if the film follows conventions of or subverts its genres. Look for any symbolism conveyed visually or metaphorically. Examine if the setting is used purposefully to drive the narrative or make societal comments.
Provide Background and Context
Give readers context on when this short film was produced, where it fits in the filmmakers’ careers, and what awards or festivals it has been a part of. For example:
“Directed by Wes Anderson in 2004 while he was an up-and-coming indie icon, Hotel Chevalier serves as a prologue to his feature The Darjeeling Limited. Running just 13 minutes, it stars Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman as former lovers reconnecting in a Paris hotel room. The short premiered at the Venice Film Festival and was later released through iTunes to build anticipation for Anderson’s full-length film.”
Background details like the ones above help set the stage for deeper analysis. Also, call out if the short is part of an anthology or based on a pre-existing story. This background should be concise, only 1-2 paragraphs.
Discuss Your Impressions and Reactions
A short film review should absolutely share your subjective thoughts, impressions, and emotional reactions as a viewer:
- Which scenes or visuals were most striking and memorable?
- When did you feel the strongest emotional impact from the characters’ words and behaviors?
- Were there moments that felt especially tense or suspenseful to you?
- Did any symbolism or metaphors particularly stand out or resonate?
Be specific in calling out 1-2 of the most powerful moments that left an impact. Discuss why they worked well based on cinematography, acting, and editing choices that brought the scenes to life.
Evaluating a short’s ability to evoke specific reactions or feelings in the viewer is an essential part of the critique.
Evaluate Overall Success and Impact
Your review should judge the effectiveness of the short film as a whole. Important questions to answer:
- Did the film feel complete or did it leave you wanting more? Was the runtime appropriate?
- How successfully did the film execute on its broad vision or communicate its message?
- Will the story stick with you days later or is it forgettable?
- Does it bring anything fresh to the film medium or its genres?
- Are there rough edges that could be improved with tighter writing, acting or editing?
Essentially, you want to assess the level of impact the short film had as an immersive experience. This involves both an objective eye to issues with execution and a subjective feeling of its emotional resonance.
Provide Recommendations for Viewers
Wrap up your short film review by clearly recommending whether or not readers should seek out this title – and why:
“With its unique blend of stylized animation and a thoughtful allegory on, Brotherhood achieves impressive depth and complexity in 25 short minutes. Fans of allegorical fiction and visual storytelling should not miss this timeless, poignant work.”
You can draw parallels to existing writers, directors, or specific works that could help give viewers a sense of what tone or style this short channels. Highlighting film festival accolades can further validate it as a must-watch.
Conclusion – Short Film Reviews
Writing a compelling short film review requires not just analyzing the technical elements but also the emotional impact of concise visual storytelling. Follow the steps above to examine themes, style, and execution while conveying your personal impressions.
With these guidelines, your reviews will provide help both viewers looking for new short films to watch and aspiring filmmakers looking to learn.
What short films have you seen lately that you would recommend to our readers? Let us know in the comments below!
Frequently Asked Questions
What should be included in a short film review?
A short film review should include an overview of the plot, an analysis of technical elements like cinematography and editing, a discussion of major themes, an assessment of the acting performances, your subjective reactions and impression of the film, and a summary opinion on whether it’s worth watching.
What are the 7 steps to writing a movie review?
The 7 steps to write a movie review are:
- Watch the film and take notes
- Provide background context on the film
- Analyze the acting, directing, cinematography, etc.
- Discuss the underlying themes and messages
- Share your own reactions and key moments that resonated
- Assess if the film achieved what it set out to do
- Give clear recommendations if readers should watch it
How long should a short film review be?
A short film review should generally be between 500-1,000 words long. This provides enough space to summarize the plot, analyze key elements, and give an opinion without being overly long.
What are the 4 components of a film review?
The 4 main components of a film review are:
- Overview and background
- Analysis of technical elements
- Discussion of major themes
- Subjective reactions and recommendation
How long is a typical short film?
Short films are usually defined as anything less than 40 minutes long, but most range from 5-30 minutes in length. The average short film duration is about 20 minutes.
How do you structure a film review?
A film review should open with an introduction that gives background context, followed by a discussion of technical elements and themes, give subjective impressions, and wrap up with an evaluation and opinion on watching the film.
What is the structure or format of a film review?
The typical structure of a film review is:
- Analysis of technical elements like acting, cinematography, etc.
- Discussion of major themes and meaning
- Subjective reactions from the reviewer
- Summary opinion/recommendation
What are the two types of film reviews?
The two main types of film reviews are:
- Critical reviews – These focus on objective analysis of the film’s technical qualities.
- Personal reviews – These emphasize the reviewer’s subjective reactions and whether they enjoyed the film.