Written by: #ArronBlake
A man who has lived in his car for four years after being excluded from his family takes a filmmaker into the woods to share a dark secret in this mockumentary style short.
I AM Norman (2021) is a challenging watch, but its relevance and originality in addressing the damaging cruelty of gay conversion therapy and mental health in the LGBTQ+ community is bound to resonate. The topic is certainly a sensitive one to address and directors Arron Blake and Darius Shu deliver a powerful short film which demands observance and attention. The London based filmmakers are best known for their other short His Hands (2019), which won numerous awards at film festivals.
This short follows Norman, a charismatic yet clearly mentally disturbed young man, as he reveals to an unseen filmmaker that he films suicides in the forest near where he sleeps in his car. The short is shot in the style of a mockumentary with the lead guiding the fictional story through a series of events, demonstrating a basic day in the life of Norman. There is a naturalistic intimate quality to Shu’s beautiful cinematography, with the sereneness of the rural woodland establishing shots contrasting the distorted uncomfortable close ups that often occur on Blake’s character. The film often utilises a gritty black and white aesthetic, creating an unsettling horror tone not too dissimilar from the style we have seen in films like The Blair Witch Project (1999). The deliberate slow pace forces you to look at the unflinching truths that reflect real issues facing many people across the world; it is simple yet provocative in its execution and results in a mesmerising viewing experience.
Blake’s performance as the enigmatic Norman makes the character very likeable by his casual demeanour, but there is always a dark tragic element to his quirks. Blake plays the part with conviction and emotional integrity and he instantly evokes sympathy when we are introduced to his living conditions and learn more about his disturbing hobby and past history with his ex-girlfriend and family. A chilling, yet indicative line: “Some people would say that I’m a killer, but I don’t kill anyone. I just watch” perfectly outlines Norman’s emotional involvement with his film subjects and acts as an important message about the damage that gay conversion therapy can inflict on people’s sense of self-worth and value.
The film includes an original soundtrack with the song ‘A Peaceful Killing’, performed and produced by Matthew Barton and written by Shu, adding an effective emotional anchor to the final montage. During this sequence, we see Norman paying tribute to one of the recently deceased suicide victims with some of his art work and stuffed animals and the track offers a touching, hard hitting final punch to the film.
I AM Norman is an important, haunting short which addresses relevant issues regarding mental health in the LGBTQ+ community. With two talents behind and in front of the camera, this impressively honest and unique film should be viewed for its admirable direction and impactful themes.