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Near Wild Heaven short film review


★★★★

Directed by: #DanThorburn

Written by: #DomOld

Starring: #MaddieWakeling, #GarethGeorge

Short Film Review by: #RyanMarsh


In poor health, Aubrey (Maddie Wakeling) tracks down her estranged father, Doug (Gareth George), to scatter her mother’s ashes.


Despite her illness, Aubrey is tough, with independence thrust upon by her mother’s death. Wannabe Rockstar Doug plays in local clubs at the cost of a relationship to his family. The characters’ depth, believability, flaws and understandable motives are the film’s strength.

This is down to the performances. Wakeling delivers dialogue convincingly, especially when Aubrey argues with Doug. Unfortunately, she is like someone pretending to be angry when acting alone. During the argument, George also performs well with a sharp anger to his voice, aggressively striding forwards and subtly conveying guilt.


Director Dan Thorburn works nicely with cast and crew because he knows the film he wants and how everything should function. He has rationality, control and confidence delivering instructions to people with care for detail such as Doug’s hesitation to leave Aubrey suffering by herself in a toilet.


Understated and used sparingly, Harry Nicholson’s stripped-down score is occasionally played in scene like through the van’s radio or on a guitar. It embodies the romanticism of being on the road by progressing from feeling determined to sad. Unfortunately, it lacks distinctiveness as you expect this musical style from this genre. Will Coldwell’s sound design also artfully starts the film with falling rain and ends with waves crashing.


Jonathan Bradshaw’s editing helps the #cinematography communicate a character’s body language and emotional state. Near Wild Heaven quickly opens introducing Aubrey which is contrasted with the ending where the image dwells before cutting to the title for memorable impact (like a full stop). A more specific example is with Aubrey’s outburst in the van and an exterior view communicates someone’s world collapsing from afar.


Behind this drama, Thorburn’s and Dom Old’s script focuses on relationships and characters in a hopeless situation. The ending seems left open reflecting relationships’ complexity. Unfortunately, the twist loses impact possibly due to its presentation or the characters’ short screen time. Regardless, it produces plausible dialogue that suits the film’s tone.


Maxwell J. Graham’s and Paolo Franciamore’s cinematography adds to the gritty realism with a washed out and grey world evoking the narrative’s sadness. Notably, the camerawork’s instability provides a unique, if potentially off-putting, visual language that gives the production a fictitious documentary appearance. In the nightclub scene, the camera is close to Aubrey’s face suggesting claustrophobia. This then switches from her point of view to her in the backroom. During the argument, the camera is intensely near the actors and the closeup on Aubrey communicates her devastating realisation. An opportunity is missed to include more footage of the stunning scenery, but the final scene’s metaphor depicting two people drifting apart on the sea is worth it.


The last scene symbolises life’s uncertainty which is addressed along with relationships. For instance, Doug is a terrible father, but loves his daughter which is emphasised with the road trip and subsequent self-discovery. Flawed, morally grey characters show how family could fail us during a life changing tragedy. On the whole though, the film centres on a slob and his determined daughter.


Near Wild Heaven is grim like a kitchen sink drama on a road trip scale. Unfortunately, it doesn’t subvert or try anything new with the self-discovery trope, little time is spent on the journey and nothing is added to its adopted themes. However, it tackles the uncertainty of relationships intricately which mainstream cinema often does not.