2018 Oscars Best Live Action Short nominee: ‘DeKalb Elementary’ is a frightening real-life tale of potential school violence

What is it like to be face to face with a person who could potentially end your life? In “DeKalb Elementary,” director Reed Van Dyk draws from a real life event to showcase this experience. His film is one of this year’s nominees at the Oscars for Best Live Action Short and marks his first Academy Awards bid.

The film takes place in the front office of an elementary school in Georgia. A receptionist, Cassandra, is going about her normal business when a young man in his twenties, Steven, enters the office. He proceeds to take out an AK-47 and tells the staff in the office to evacuate the school. He also takes Cassandra hostage and instructs her to call 911 and relay his messages to the operator. As she communicates with the dispatcher and the police arrive on the scene, Steven paces around unsure of himself. He opens a door to the outside and opens fire on several officers before retreating back into the office.

Sensing that he’s gone too far, Steven begins to think that he should probably give up to the police. He asks Cassandra to ask the 911 operator whether any officers were injured by the shots he fired. She tells him that no one was struck and Steven tells Cassandra that he wants to surrender and that she should tell the dispatcher that he’s ready to give up. Cassandra complies and even offers to help him surrender so that he won’t get shot. As he lies down on the floor to surrender, Cassandra sits next to him.

He feels like a failure but Cassandra seeks to reassure him, telling him that she loves him and believes it was very brave of him to give up and surrender to the authorities. As they wait, they both wonder what is taking the police so long to get inside when they storm in through the office door. As they arrest Steven, he looks back one last time at Cassandra as she reflects on the experience she just went through.

The film is based on an actual event that happened in 2013 at Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy. The dialogue was taken from the 911 recording of bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff as she acted as a go-between for the gunman.

Could this real-life story of suspense go home with Oscar gold? Here are the pros and cons that this film presents.

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PROS

With the nation still reeling from the most recent (and surely not the last) school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this film could not be timelier.

The performances from Tara Riggs (Cassandra) and Bo Mitchell (Steven) are intense, top notch and greatly enrich the story being told.

The film isn’t disturbing to watch and doesn’t seek to justify anyone’s behavior or actions.

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CONS

In depicting the events in a very matter-of-fact way, the film doesn’t have a lot to say about the issue of guns and school shootings. In a time when we find ourselves searching for answers on this, the film can leave something to be desired.

Even though it’s based on a real event, the lack of action in the film can make it feel a little boring.

Sometimes the idea of what the film is or could be about overshadows what is actually happening in the film.

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