Written & Directed by Sam Jones
Starring Rebecca Manley, Matilda Freeman, Vauxhall Jermaine, Luke Pearson and Jennifer Hennessy
Short Film Review by Chris Olson
There is something captivating about desperation that translates beautifully onto screen. When done well, it is an emotion that is revealed far more through silent expression than dialogue. Desperate characters communicate their vulnerability and fear through body language and nuanced facial expressions, allowing the audience to connect with a physicality rather than any lines they might say. This is probably because viewers do not always trust words. Words come with emotional baggage, prejudices, and implications of self-furtherment whereas body parts are less likely to try to achieve anything out of malice or evil. To see a masterclass in this form of acting one need only watch Rebecca Manley’s performance in Sam Jones’s short film, Lifeline, where every ounce of her screentime is utterly captivating.
Manley plays a mother attempting to find help for her son (Luke Pearson) in a post-apocalyptic world where savagery and brutality seem to reign amongst the British urban landscape. As she looks for the titular lifeline in a nearby building, its occupants present themselves with increasingly violent intentions.
There is a touch of gritty realism to Lifeline that keeps the film well inside the “enjoyable” camp of this genre. Similar in tone and ilk to movies like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) or David Michôd’s The Rover (2014), Jones proves himself to be more than capable of creating a compelling mise en scène like those films whilst delivering a story that is not concerned with trying to fit inside a neat little box. The plot is rolled out with a thrilling pace, and tension and intrigue build like looming spectres, but the power of Lifeline lies in the execution of these feelings, rather than any trite formula of beginning, middle, and end storytelling.
A beautifully haunting score accompanies Jones’s movie, from composer Benjamin Squires, that is the perfect match to the horrific elements that emerge on screen, whilst giving a degree of ethereal hope for Manley’s character at times. This poignant and affecting balance is subtly done, but something which elevates the film above mere horror filmmaking, instead transcending it into a thought-provoking piece about the nature of human endurance and the durability of one’s love for another in the face of absolute turmoil.
As hinted, the performances in short film Lifeline are excellent. Manley is a delight to watch, navigating the different locations of her search for help with a formidable presence, and then depicting the crippling fear and anguish she feels later on with remarkable skill. One of the characters she meets along the way, played by Mathilda Freeman, is also fabulous as this violent yet emotionally bludgeoned child.
When remarking on the captivating notion of desperation at the beginning of this film review, it needs to be made completely clear that Jones’s filmmaking is anything but. There is an impressive confidence in all aspects of Lifeline that make it one of the best short films of the year. Completely enthralling, brutally gripping, and containing an absolute powerhouse performance from Rebecca Manley, this could be the start of something important for film.