Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review: Chaperone [Short] ★★★★

Chaperone, the first film from rising talent Sam Max debuts at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The arresting short is one that lingers thanks to its unsettlingly ambiguous build-up, asserting central performances, and its examination on the effects isolation.

Written and directed by Max, the sixteen minute Chaperone sees an unnamed figure (Zachary Quinto) pick up a young man (Russell Kahn) in his car. These men do not appear to have a prior relationship, yet drive to an austere rental house in the middle of the countryside. The nature of their relationship is soon revealed in a sharp turn of events.

From its earliest moments, Chaperone builds up a sense of intrigue and unease as Quinto’s unnamed figure is donned from head to toe in black – complete with leather gloves – whilst Kahn’s young man anxiously making small talk to be met with little response other than rapid fire logistical questions. The exchanging of a black duffle bag and a quiet somewhat tense drive between the men builds further suspense as the direction of the short begins to take shape.

There’s a steely tension – carried particularly by Quinto’s more dominant, intense albeit quiet presence. Questions of a sexual rapport between the men feel plausible – yet their arrival at an imposing, sparsely furnished country home complete with plastic-wrapped furniture takes our mind down more dangerous routes. The young man still feels on edge but cutting loose with dance music and narcotics followed by an unconventional sex scene springs further questions to mind. Max builds up a dangerous puzzle that invites us to solve it, in their meticulously crafted narrative which is heavy on brooding, sombre atmosphere.

As Chaperone begins to unveil its enigmatic cards which it has previously held tight to its chest, Max’s short unveils itself as one examining a sense of connection between two very different individuals. Quinto’s unnamed man provides a service and it is clear that Kahn’s protagonist is a damaged one, isolated and in a dark place. The use of distorting visual effects from cinematographer Jordan T. Parrott in the short’s final moments bring Chaperone‘s story to a sombre conclusion – one that manages to touch at the emotions, despite sparing use of dialogue, sound or musical cues.

Chaperone is enthralling short crafted with a gripping and enigmatic sense of tension. Max’s tightly-crafted narrative and the questions it provokes showcase their skills as a storyteller, whilst strong presences from Quinto and Kahn fully transport us into darkly provocative world.

Chaperone plays as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2022 from Thursday January 20th at 9am MT. It can be watched at Find ticket details here.

Zachary Quinto and Russell Kahn appear in Chaperone by Sam Max, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jordan T. Parrott.