Short Film Review: ‘The Mess He Made’


Matthew Puccini’s touching short film provides viewers a poignant glimpse into the world a fraught, vulnerable young man.

There’s a certain sense of duality in a doctor’s office. It can exist on both planes of human emotion—depression and celebration. A visit to the doctor’s office can mark the wonderful occasion of a newborn birth or the news of cancer-free remission. It can be a place in which life gains new meaning and sees everyday events with a new, glowing light. The doctor’s office can indeed represent everything that can go well in life.

But by the same token, a doctor’s office could be an individual’s worst nightmare. Whether it is speeding along a highway only to discover a loved one’s demise or to learn of a horrible ailment, a health clinic is often the source of anxiety, duress, and shock. It is the same sort of bewildered existentialism that rocks Jude, the protagonist of Matthew Puccini’s humanistic The Mess He Made.

Running a little under ten minutes, the SXSW favorite is a touching and sensitive short film that works tirelessly to paint a modernist painting of Jude (Max Jenkins) as he eagerly waiting for the results of a rapid-test HIV/AIDS in a small, rural strip mall somewhere in America. With seldom any support from a distant family and a deepening level of distrust toward his possible significant other, Jude is left with no one as he deals with one of the most difficult and excruciatingly long fifteen minutes of his life.

The film’s cool-hued grainy film stock points to the gritty nature of Jude’s predicament and the truck stop life that surrounds the area. Coupled with the short film’s razor-sharp attention to sound design—where diegetic sounds of breathing, coughing, and the pitter patters of footsteps on cold, linoleum floors scream of an overwhelming internalized tension—The Mess He Made is a highly attentive film that takes a tender and delicate look into the isolated world of the vulnerable Jude.

The film’s over-the-shoulder shots and focalized attention to Jude’s perspective showcase a palpable helplessness from Jude. His run-ins with seemingly innocuous circumstances now hold a somberness that he had seldom seemed to realize prior to this event. Everything is now much more powerful, emotional, and humanistic. The slightest mistake, the slightest slip-up, holds the same sort of intensity and weight that his HIV test does.

Matthew Puccini has presented audiences with a deeply insightful short film that is as eye-opening as it is stirring. From the kindhearted and vulnerable acting from Jenkins to the excellent cinematography from Brandon Roots, The Mess He Made is a wonderful short film that forces viewers to rethink the weight of their actions when they come to grips with an existential, life-threatening crisis. And if this second short film from the Brooklyn-based director is anything to go by, everyone will be eagerly awaiting Puccini’s inevitable foray into feature films.

The Mess He Made premiered at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival. It will be released on Vimeo on September 27 to commemorate National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Check out the film for yourself below.

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