Directed by: #EnyaBelak
Film Review by Nathanial Eker
Very Well Mind, a medically reviewed mental health awareness website says of the effects of heroin: 'People who use heroin describe sensations of warmth and safety while they are high. This may be despite the fact that, in reality, they are anything but safe or warm.' Why bring this up? Because it's an apt metaphor for the two halves of Luminary, a short that blends experimental, dream-like scenes with more traditional sequences in a dull-yet-safe suburban setting.
Zoe is a heroin addict with a young daughter. Over the course of twelve minutes, we watch her spiral and see how her party-heavy lifestyle and addiction strains the relationships with her father, sister, and daughter.
Luminary provides an engaging and visceral look at the struggles of drug addiction. The surreal scenes in the nightclub are undoubtedly the short's greatest, as the barren walls and cold palette give an otherwise normal setting an underlying air of sinisterness. Indeed, the character known only as S/He (David Bettega) personifies this spooky atmosphere as they skulk around the club like a glittery ghoul, tempting our protagonist.
Credit must go to director Enya Belak and their cinematographer for producing a haunting mise-en-scene that is immediately atmospheric. Belak takes more than a handful of cues from the horror genre, but when dealing with a topic as challenging as heroin addiction, horrific imagery is entirely appropriate. The experimental angles, other-worldly visuals, and disregard for traditional narrative structures culminate in an artistic expression of freedom and regret that is undeniably powerful.
Regrettably then, the scenes that take place in the "real world" are unable to live up to the pantheon of experimental excellence presented during the opening. When thrust into the mundane world of modern London, the film's edge immediately blunts. Its message ultimately boils down to 'drugs ruin lives', and while it's not unsubtle, it is, unfortunately, quite dull.
All the actors give reasonably solid turns, with stand out performances from Elif Knight as lead Zoe and little Olivia Anastasiades as Chloe. The two have a brief yet excellent chemistry, and their strained bond is believable, despite only sharing seconds of screen time. The minimal dialogue also works well here, as a sloppier film would've given the actors layers of irritating exposition. Belak lets the scenes breathe, and the film is better for it.
It's unfortunate then that as Luminary leans into its more traditional narrative structure, it fails to inform the audience of much of anything. One only learns the relationships between the characters by visiting the IMDb page. Additionally, while Zoe's substance abuse is obvious, it isn't clear which drug she's taking, how frequently she's taking it, and, most crucially of all: why she's taking it. These questions could've been addressed via the same wordless storytelling as the rest of the film, or even in its most expository scene, where Zoe chats with her sister. As is, the plot is remarkably confusing for such a short and simple film.
Luminary is let down by an incoherent script and mundane thematic overtones. Fortunately, it's visually stunning and a case study in creating a fantastic mise-en-scene on a minimal budget.
You're probably unlikely to get addicted to Luminary, but it's worth a watch nonetheless.