Directed by Morgan Johnson
Starring Morgan Johnson, Rachel Porter, Michael Fisher, Cameron Young
Short Film Review by Kirsty Asher
Looking Back Merrifield marks the second short film directed, written by and starring Morgan Johnson. The film opens with an intrusive knock on a door, tired eyes open reluctantly to face the world. These opening shots are crisply edited with a cool, drained colour palette and this is a great foundation for the sad story Johnson has to tell.
The story is of Alexander, a young man who is by his own admission stuck somewhere between adolescence and adulthood. After an uncomfortable exchange with his friends where he rejects their invitation to party, he begins to recount fond memories of his best friend and girlfriend Madison Merrifield.
There are some great shots here which emphasise Alexander’s isolation and depression: a close shot of him lighting a cigarette catches a neurotic twitch of his jaw. The everyday dullness of coffee brewing in the machine split screened with a loving and encouraging note from his dad as well as the nauseous glare of an electric kitchen clock, all illustrate competently how this young man’s life is in total stasis. We are shepherded towards an understanding of why his life has ground to a halt when he takes a bike ride to the local park, and we meet the hitherto mysterious Madison.
The script cleverly plays out Alexander’s loss at the close of the film with a repetition of his original description of Madison, and then crucially adds a small but nevertheless melancholy addition to the end of the monologue. The final shot is simple yet sweetly melancholy and leaves us on a note of Alexander’s gradual return to a hope for the future after unveiling his difficult memories.
The story being based on real-life circumstances certainly adds to the tragic tone of the film, however I found it difficult to capture the tragedy in the performances as well as the camerawork and screenplay. Johnson certainly captures the facial expression of sullen-eyed depression, but the tone of his voice-over narration is contemplative and filled with suburban ennui as opposed to devastated and heartbroken. This more casual tone doesn’t quite match up with the exciting incident of meeting Madison’s character in the park.
When directing oneself there is always the loss of an outside eye or creative opinion which can be risky. In this case there are instances in particular montage shots where Johnson looks ill at ease in front of the camera and his performance doesn’t always come across as naturalistic. Likewise, there is a noticeable lack of chemistry in the scenes of dialogue between Madison and Alexander. It would be hard to decipher from that scene alone that they mean as much to each other as Alexander had previously suggested.
Looking Back Merrifield doesn’t quite hit the emotional target its aiming for, but there is certainly praise to be given for the clever use of camerawork and editing that emphasises the important aspects of a small, simple story of love and loss.