Thursday 12 December 2013

Apparition (2013)

Director: Jahanara Saleh
Stars: Rhonda Christian, Ryan Zimmer, Kenneth Applegate, Lou White, Bryan Snow and Julie Ann Penman
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
It took so long for Apparition to get moving that I found myself scrutinising the characters to figure out where writer/director Jahanara Saleh planned for it to go. In doing so, I also realised that I was bizarrely mirroring the characters, none of whom ever speak. They just look at each other and try to figure them out, surrounded by nothing but ambient noise. Everything here is perception and, while nothing really seems to happen, there's a lot subtly going on. I discovered by accident that turning the sound down to nothing adds another element to the story, albeit not intentionally, and certainly makes it stranger still. Who is this odd woman that we're apparently supposed to be watching and why are we supposed to be watching her? We aren't given her name, though IMDb tells us that she's Natalie and played by Rhonda Christian. We aren't given details like her job, her family, her background, anything. All we know is that she takes the same train every day and she's apparently unable to talk to anyone.

We meet her indoors, on what might be a therapist's couch or might just be furniture at home. She has a thick scarf on already, which she may well never take off. She just waits for eight o'clock and leaves, without saying goodbye to the dog. She walks oddly, not confidently. She appears to be worried about everything and everybody that she sees. The dancing guy with earphones who waits for the same train might look suspicious, but then to Natalie, a passing pigeon looks suspicious too. Once on board and in a quiet seat safely away from everyone else, she smiles at unaccompanied men in a vaguely coquettish way, but is freaked out by another woman who stares incessantly at her. She clutches her bag, perhaps both as a security measure and as a security blanket. Eventually, over half way through the brief seven minute running time, we get a breakthrough. The dancing guy helps a woman in a wheelchair and, all at once, Natalie knows how to connect to the world. Next day she wheels up to the station too.

Of course, it isn't that simple and the script takes a couple of neat left turns as subtly as it's set it all up thus far. Clearly Saleh is explaining to us through entirely visual language that people aren't necessarily what they appear to be. Just as Natalie makes assumptions about all the fellow passengers she sees on a daily basis, so do we and we may be just as wrong as her. What makes this such a memorable film is that this happens on a number of levels, not just the cheap first one in which the young lad listening to his headphones is the one who helps the lady in the wheelchair. The last one is the best of all, because it's all internal and it changes everything. Just as Natalie believes she's finally figured out the world, the world slaps her in the face. Christian is excellent as Natalie and her similarly quiet co-stars support her well. It's Saleh who deserves most credit though for conjuring up a highly cinematic film. This wouldn't work in any other medium but it makes for an enticing little life lesson on screen.

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