Written & Directed by Mark J. Blackman Starring Johnny Sachon and Katie Goldfinch Short Film Review by Chris Olson
Engulfing and sweetly subtle, short film Animus, from filmmaker Mark J. Blackman, is a masterclass in dramatic poise. Focusing on the rift between an estranged couple, the story revels in the fullest bounty of emotions, capturing a perfect sense of love, hate, and everything in between. Johnny Sachon plays Elliot, an insular type who seems brusquely satisfied with his small time living, whose isolation is disrupted when a former flame, Sienna (Katie Goldfinch), drops by for a visit. Their reminiscing is far from romantic banter though, and instead seems laden with tragedy and pathos. However, as the two experience a rekindling of their feelings, is there something that can be salvaged from this obviously troubled situation?
Simple and effective is possibly the best way of describing Blackman’s film. That is not to say that the film is lacking in any particular department, rather it deftly avoids unnecessary bagginess and does what it sets out to do with formidable presence. The drama is intense, the performances are incredible, and the reveals of the storytelling are intriguing throughout. Audiences are left to ponder the ultimate themes of the story, whilst being given some contrasting definitions of the film’s title using card descriptions that bookend the movie.
There is gorgeous cinematography from Beatriz Sastre during Animus, which picks out the isolation of these characters, and how their estrangement is a continuous atmosphere surrounding them. A beautiful example of this is the steaming coffee cup in the car being left to lose its heat, inscribed with the name Sienna, or the low-angle shots of the power lines against the picturesque sky that seems to hint at a future impossibly hopeless. Joined by an equally emotive original score from Simon Slater which lends even more depth to this short film, although there was one moment of heavy handedness which went against the subtlety created elsewhere, unfortunately jarring this viewer momentarily out of the movie. As mentioned, the two performances from Sachon and Goldfinch are remarkable. Their chemistry is undoubtable, but not simply because it has the workings of two fantastic actors. Whilst it is exactly that, it is their on screen duality which is palpable and enthralling, taking the audience through a meandering labyrinth of crushing woe, lost hope, and reconnection. This simple but effective method that Blackman strikes for lets the characters unwind before the viewer, never disjointing them with added padding or superfluous stylings. Sachon is tentative and reserved, revealing the unmistakable hint of regret that his character tries to cover up with delusion. Whilst Goldfinch tackles an equally challenging array of complex emotions, hers being a performance riddled with a more direct anger and conflict, that is underlaid by an obvious distress about the way her life is rolling out before her.
The craftsmanship of Animus is breathtaking. It is a short film that pays superb attention to the fundamentals of storytelling, letting the characters, plot, and themes do all the heavy lifting, and never failing to complement these pillars with the other aspects it chooses to allow entry. The result is an example of near-perfect filmmaking.