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21 - Short Film Review

Directed by: #Rhys McCubin Written by: #Rhys McCubin Starring: #Stephen Carr #Philipa Barrow Film Review by: Joshua Calladine


First, a confession: this is a very difficult film to review. There is narrative present, but it is largely without any significant context. A young man (played by Stephen Carr), evidently at his twenty-first birthday party, makes his way around the room, greeting various guests and friends, shaking hands, hugging, saying hello, always with a blank, slightly pained expression.

He finally greets a woman who appears to be a relative, likely his mother (played by Philipa Barrow) hands her a note that reads 'Mum xx' and through some dizzy editing overlays that give the expected emotional disturbance in the scene, the frame cuts to the same party, but this time the guests present are all dressed in black. His mother walks through them, holding the note, and then the film cuts to its public service announcement: suicide is an epidemic among young men in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with worrying rates of incidence.

This message is, of course, true. It is, of course, valuable. It must, of course, be heard. Even the editing twist that reveals itself at the end is effective. But none of this equates to a film, in the fullest sense of a film, with all of its parts.

The soundtrack is cloying, distracting from the emotional complexities of the situation, a breathy and sentimental acoustic song. Maybe this would be effective if the subject at hand was not of such huge gravity. But the sad song carries most of the burden here. Watching the film on mute is a comparatively flat experience, if slightly moving and perplexing in its silence.

Suicide is not (or should not be) a taboo or off-limits subject for any mature film-maker. Here it feels abstract, unreal, an adolescent idea. The character of suicide comes with a whole narrative tradition of stock ideas: that quiet discomfort and awkwardness are expressive of inner pain, that no one can see it when it is about to happen. These things are often sadly true, and it is a shame that the film-maker did not try harder to deviate from these ready-made images and create something that challenged the viewer's preconceptions of these ideas.

But then it is perhaps digging too deep to make these criticisms. Overall, the film is very effective as a TV spot or advert. This puts it at an unfair disadvantage when reviewed as a short film. At only three-minutes long and with obvious similarities to a music-video, it is better suited to the medium of a general public service announcement, than a cinematic work in its own right.



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