Directed by Alex Rosling Starring James McKillop & Joe Barker Short film review by Andrew Young
There is clear talent on display in writer-director Alex Rosling’s NATiVE, a sci-fi tinged thriller that is a well-made and well-performed effort, squeezing maximum effect from its small budget and short running time. Yet it ultimately lacks the big ideas, or perhaps the clarity and coherence in communicating them, to leave as long-lasting an impression as it could have done.
The plot largely focuses on James McKillop’s Joel as he tries to protect himself from some nefarious entity whose identity and motivations are left unexplained, but whose ardent desire to see Joel dead is abundantly clear. On the one hand, it’s fun to guess what the hell is really going on, but the seeming lack of any grand design or social commentary makes it difficult to invest in the characters or remember them after the credits roll. Thankfully, Joel and fellow on-the-runner Max (Joe Barker) amount to more than two blokes running around a forest, because Joel’s clear desire to protect Max and flashbacks to a violent past combine with McKillop’s earnest central performance to give Joel a much-needed moral dimension.
As the action-led narrative would suggest, there is little dialogue in Rosling’s script and when it does come it is on-the-nose and a tad clichéd; thankfully NATiVE has its greatest strengths away from its words. This is not the kind of film that sets out to please its audience with Sorkin-esque verbal patter, rather it uses its short running time to its advantage, establishing a clear visual style that arrests the viewer with immediate effect. The impressive use of light in the cinematography is crucial to Rosling achieving his goal. He shoots his characters in stark white light, meaning that the whole frame has the feel of an over-exposed photograph. This creates the impression of the characters’ violent actions being exposed, which ties in neatly with the moral thread running throughout.
Rosling’s distinctive directorial decisions don’t end there however. In one scene the action repeatedly fades in and out to black, causing the viewer to feel like they are seeing a fractured version of the reality. This combines with a constantly moving camera to create a feeling of immersion in the film, as if we are active viewers, but falling in and out of consciousness and only seeing part of the story. This kind of immersion is aided by great use of sound too, with a swelling, breathing-style noise effectively disorientating the audience. This scene is a great example of how Rosling’s style of filmmaking is something to be experienced and felt rather than picked apart and thought about. As such, music is a key part of NATiVE’s more successful elements. A sense of danger and the subsequent thrill of violence in the score is integral to films like this and Adam Galloway’s composition duly provides it.
Rosling also shows a visual wit beyond the action, the brightness of the woodland surroundings and the characters’ proximity to a suburban housing estate subvert cinematic worlds where bad things only seem to happen in dark and unfamiliar places. These little touches show that there is more to NATiVE and Rosling as a filmmaker than realistic, excellently performed action. That’s not to take anything away from Barker’s fight choreography and Rosling’s clear ability to handle an action scene however. Now, Rosling needs to set about finding a weightier story and will hopefully secure the budget and run-time to tell it. If he can do that, he could be very successful indeed.