[REVIEW] Nickel Children

(Note: this is a review I previously recorded for The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast with Paeter Frandsen)

The Western has been considered by many people as an American mythology.  It features very archetypal tropes like good versus evil and law and order versus crime and chaos. 

In 2010, writer director Kevin Eslinger produced the 16 minute short film titled Nickel Children (not to be confused with the 2005 feature film The Nickel Children), which could be variously called a steampunk or a weird western film.  

The basic plot is that in the late 1800's Kansas, a young orphaned boy is held captive with other children for the pleasure of adults. The boys are forced to fight each other while the grown ups bet on the winners and losers; the girls dance with heavily made up faces to entertain the men.

For a 16-minute indie film shot in only five days, Nickel Children has a lot of promise.  The costuming, sets and effects place it squarely in the steampunk/weird Western realm. Acting is perhaps the biggest weakness of the film, which should not be too surprising since children are such a major focus of the film.  The only exception is with the dancing girls with their painted faces. Even beneath the makeup, Eslinger manages to capture a genuine look of lostness that still haunts me.

Paul Green, who put together the Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns, reviewed Nickel Children for his blog and said how much he appreciated a Weird Western film that wasn't about vampires or zombies. Some viewers might have trouble with a story about child exploitation and trafficking, but I think it makes you really care about the characters that much more.

I wold love to see what this film would look like with more resources and a longer running time, but for now, I'll give Nickel Children a 4 out 5.

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