Directed by #RobStantonCook
Film review by Nathanial Eker
Kilter is a challenging short that examines the horrors of adulthood through the journey of a man forced to recall his child-self. Director Rob Stanton-Cook crafts an atmospheric and morbid mise-en-scene that despairs the trials of living in the "adult world" and demonstrates the grief that comes with a troubled childhood. Regrettably, a few choice decisions also imply a problematic association between cross-dressing and violent crime; a tired cliché. However, the film's attempt to shine a light on the harmful effects of toxic masculinity is admirable, and the wordless storytelling helps underline the unnerving atmosphere and allows us to connect with the lead on a more intimate level.
Nathan (Kirin J Callinan) has committed a crime of passion against an unnamed victim. He's burned the body of his lover/ex/friend and now has time to reflect on his life, who he is, and what he has become. He's haunted by visions of his childhood self (Pierce Toms) and his overbearing, old-fashioned father (Shane Rayner). We're invited to watch his downward spiral as he continues to devolve from a gentle child into something darker; something violent.
The central premise of Kilter is immediately intriguing, and Stanton-Cook obviously knows how to frame a striking scene. The grim, dirty mise-en-scene is an appropriate parallel to the dirty blood on Nathan's hands, and the several excruciating long takes force both the audience and Nathan to confront what he's done. However, this theme of the need to confront the traumatic past would be entirely ineffective without the sublime performance of lead actor Kirin J Callinan. Callinan is all at once sympathetic, majestic, and frantic, and he delivers the emotional devastation felt by Nathan with a fierce believability.
Thematically, Kilter starts off strong. The exploration of one's upbringing vs who they truly are is a relevant and impactful topic, and it is generally well-developed. The film's more experimental scenes which blend past and present allow us to witness Nathan's father's disparaging attitude to his sensitive son without the need for words. Indeed, the wordlessness of the piece works marvellously, as Stanton-Cook rightly puts the focus on the purile devolution of the main character.
Regrettably, it is that same devolution that takes Kilter off track, as Nathan's breakdown confusingly becomes intertwined with his apparent gender fluidity/cross-dressing. Indeed, after an intense outburst, he puts on earrings, lipstick, and mascara, seemingly as a comfort, before stamping on the corpse of an animal. When considering the poor representation that the LGBTQ+ community has endured in cinema, particularly regarding the presentation of gender fluidity and cross-dressing, it is frustrating to see a film rely on the outdated stereotype of "man wearing makeup is also a violent criminal". Furthermore, it seems an unnecessary addition to the story and acts as a disorientating distraction in an otherwise sensitive short.
Overall, however, Kilter demonstrates an emotive and compelling expression of grief and regret. It is well shot and well-acted and its foreboding soundtrack supports its impactful sound design and dialogue-less storytelling.
Kilter a disturbing, human tale with a slightly muddled message, but a phenomenal lead performance.