Friday 27 February 2015

Sinking (2015)

Directors: Nathan Lawrence and Justin Ehlers
Stars: Justin Ehlers, Kim Gonzales and Berlin Ehlers
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in the 2014-15 season. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014-15 submissions.
It could be argued that Sinking, the IFP Breakout Challenge entry from the joyously named Loneliest Yeti Productions, isn't a film at all; it's a music video. Perhaps the judges saw it that way, as the only award it took home was for its music, a song of the same name by a band called Blind Horse. I like the approach, as one of the traditional failings of film challenge films is the sound quality and that isn't a problem with a short that's entirely silent and backed by (or backing) a song that doesn't need any voice to be in sync. Unlike many music videos though, this one does tell a story with its visuals. It's a sad story, dealing with the loss of a child and the struggle of the parents to continue in their relationship after such a traumatic event, but what makes it really interesting is that it's told entirely in reverse. It begins at the moment at which this couple may have finally found a new start, as she rescues him from an attempted suicide by drowning in the bathtub, an act that we later discover has additional meaning.
Because the story is told in reverse, this is inherently a film to watch more than once. First time through, we wonder what the heck's going on for a while until we realise we're venturing backwards to discover a reason for such a drastic act. There are a few hints that the trigger isn't just a bad relationship, so we're not too surprised when the reason manifests itself but it's still a tough thing to watch when it does show up, even abstracted away from; this isn't aiming for in your face trauma. A second viewing solidifies the story and a third both adds nuance to the emotional impact of the piece and helps to highlight some of its flaws. One odd issue I found is that it took a fourth time through to actually realise how the words tie to the visuals, as each time I watched with the intention of listening I ended up merely watching instead. In the end I had to hide the visuals so I could listen without distraction. Is that the film doing something right or the song doing something wrong? I have to say that I don't know.

A more palpable flaw is in the inconsistency of focus. While the camera remains an agreeably loose thing throughout, not annoyingly handheld but staged well enough to not seem staged, it's loose enough that faces often find themselves out of focus. Perhaps that was a deliberate choice by writer/director Nathan Lawrence or his lead actor/co-director Justin Ehlers for artistic reasons, highlighting the lack of focus that plagues this couple after such a tragic loss, but it doesn't play that way and that feeling could have been accomplished, indeed was accomplished, through other visual elements such as the specific progression of events we're taken through. Ehlers and his leading lady, Kim Gonzales, seem capable enough in what they're doing on screen to warrant us seeing them properly, especially as the film's approach inherently deprives us of their voices. That choice I can live with, because it seems more fundamentally appropriate with each viewing. We really don't need words; this is a quintessentially visual story bolstered by music.

Sinking can be viewed for free on YouTube.

1 comment:

Nathan Lawrence said...

Thanks for writing up the review, Hal!