Directed by Catherine Vaughan and Ben Vaughan Starring Catherine Vaughan, Sarah Banerjee, Lillie-Louise McKeague-Pittman Indie Film Review by Annie Vincent
Apotheosis is the debut feature film from 15 year old Catherine Vaughan who, together with her father Ben, has set out to produce a musical (of sorts) which explores mental health issues in teenagers, with a particular focus on schizophrenia.
When a teenage girl, played by Vaughan, has been driven to her wits end by the voices in her head, she attempts to throw herself from Brighton Pier to reach ‘the land’ which she is supposed to help free from ‘the darkness’. A bystander, played by Sarah Banerjee, stops her, shows her friendship and thus helps defeat the darkness that overwhelms our protagonist.
While an interesting premise, unfortunately the film falls short of delivering anything meaningful and genuine on this subject. The girls’ aims: to raise awareness of mental health issues in teenagers and to prevent associated suicides, are honourable, and credit must be given to them for undertaking a feature film at such a tender age, but this film is difficult and sometimes painful to watch because of that very immaturity which doesn’t allow them to really explore the inner turmoil that a narrative of this type demands.
The acting isn’t at all convincing, particularly when it comes to the development of the girls’ relationship, which is infantile in the extreme and too one-dimensional for teenage audiences. Some scenes seem completely odd or unnecessary, such as when the girls are out having fun, but stop by a church to pray, and the final part of the film, set in ‘the land’, becomes a series of music videos with Vaughan often gawping at gargoyles. The film becomes a disappointment because the plot doesn’t stand up to the premise.
The opening sequence in Apotheosis shows such promise too! It opens almost like a psychological thriller as we hear the troubling and breathy sounds of someone clearly in pain. At this point, Vaughan demonstrated she could really have talent: we couldn’t see what pained that distraught voice and were consequently forced to appreciate the fear of what cannot be seen – the stark reality of mental health.
After a particularly plucky and well shot ‘friendship’ sequence, which saw the girls pass through Brighton as Duran Duran played behind, we were even offered a glimpse of the protagonist’s traumatic past: the death of her father, and again it seemed some real thinking had been done here to present a three-dimensional exploration of the progression of mental health issues.
However, as the plot was developed further this start proved false. The brand new friendship became obsessive, our protagonist suggested doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her, that she had ‘special powers’ and that she had been set a quest to ‘the land’ to help rid it of darkness. The script tried to explain that the darkness invading ‘the land’ was her own fear and consequently the source of her mental health issue, but whilst a lovely metaphor, it fell short of delivering any real comment on the nature of the beast that is mental illness.
On a positive note, the overall message: that love and friendship is a key factor in supporting teenagers with mental health issues is valid and heartwarming. As a project, this is admirable. The camera-work too was good in places, and Ben Vaughan has captured some excellent pan shots and moving sequences on just a pocket camera. And Catherine Vaughan certainly has a talent for songwriting, delivering a couple of tracks that narrated her plot far more poignantly than her script. Apotheosis is unlikely to make waves but the ripples of a young creative have emerged and I hope her commitment to this cause continues.