Directed by Penelope Lawson
Starring Rebecca Martos, Olivia Blois Sharpe, Daniel Deutsch
Short Film Review by Lucas Wilson
There’s a distinctly 90s tone to Penelope Lawson’s short film Numb, a 10 minute snap shot of a woman in emotional free-fall. If the autumnal steam of New York doesn’t call to mind torn denim and angst, then Rebecca Martos’ Courtney Love-channelling Astrid will. Love’s Live Through This may very well have acted as Numb’s subtitle, an articulation of the challenge that Astrid presents herself with as she aggressively pursues random sex, a drink and a cigarette never far away.
At its best, Martos’ performance is genuinely uncomfortable if a little let down by fairly routine dialogue and an approach to filmmaking rooted in realism but which is, somehow, overly studied. The best scenes are those with Daniel Deutsch whose Mark, one of the three random men through which Astrid acts out her personal nihilism, is a squirmingly ill-fitted partner in this odd coupling. More of that awkwardness might have given Numb the kind of hopeless emptiness that any 10 minute excursion into self-destruction through hedonism offers.
Consistency in camera work might also have delivered a more powerful impact. Early on we are witness to a presumed AA meeting where a shaky, unstable camera effectively places the viewer in the therapy circle, work later undone by Steadicam, undermining the emotional grit which Lawson aims to show. Elsewhere, however, there are pay offs, particularly in music; when Twin Shadow’s Five Seconds, perfectly chosen, starts playing in a bar it’s a well-timed breath of life and one that ties together Numb’s preoccupation with New York and the relationship between love and despair.
The original score, written by Evan Louison and Matthew Mendelson (who’s also responsible for editing and cinematography here - two of the strongest elements of Numb), is also an effective slice of cinematic minimalism and the clever, diary-scrawled credits that it soundtracks lend a further sense of the individual-in-angst.
Although Numb is an exploration of a woman out of control, owing to a script which does not fully exploit the emotions which it invokes, the individual-in-angst does not translate to individual-in-peril. At the start of that AA meeting a participant describes his use of alcohol as an attempt to numb his emotional pain. Astrid’s behaviour seems to stem more from existential numbness than it does from a search for numbness; she drinks because she is in the abyss not because she seeks it. The confusion around this character motivation is a flaw that detracts from the power which Numb, an otherwise promising work, could have struck its audience with.