Directed by: Ernesto M. Sandoval
Reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan's 2016 thriller Split with undertones of affecting emotional dramas like Room and short film Aimee, The Voice Within written by Laurie Henderson and Ernesto M. Sandoval is a crippling exploration of character and trauma. Loaded with sublime performances and technically skilled #filmmaking, it's a movie audiences can happily grapple with.
Henderson plays Catherine, a woman struggling with the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father when she was a kid. Developing Dissociative Identity Disorder as a result of this trauma, we also see Henderson play a character called Angelina, who takes over Catherine's life. As the two struggle for control and attempt to make sense of what happened, facilitated by therapist Anna (Toni Romano), events look ready to spiral out of control once again for our protagonist.
Emotionally charged and gut-punchingly plotted, The Voice Within takes bold strides when it comes to powerful storytelling. The short film never shies away from the grit of the story and instead allows it to coalesce around the screen like a grim, dramatic spectre. This allows Henderson's frenzied and overwrought performance to feel compelling. Romano is a calming presence on screen, her character's attempts to help Catherine and Angelina feeling like beautiful lifelines amongst a lot of sorrow.
Director Ernesto M. Sandoval knows how to compel with cinematic devices as well as great performances.
His use of close-up framing of Catherine's face (adult and child - the latter played by Carissa Bazler) is done to instill both intimacy and terror in the viewer. Whilst the erratic scene changes from Anna's office, to a bar sequence, to Catherine's childhood brilliantly convey the nature of the central character's anguish - being stuck in her life since that experience with her dad.
The themes of abuse, emotional instability, self harm, and identity disorders could feel like too much to explore in a short film format. However, Sandoval and Henderson are careful to intertwine each so that we only feel one thread throughout the piece, which is the suffering of Catherine. All her issues are felt as one and the intensity with which it comes across is palpable. It was fascinating to see such personal atrocity laid bare in a way that felt heartbreaking yet cinematic and arresting. Often heavy themes have a tendency to knock the wind out of viewers yet The Voice Within still carried a pulsing energy (largely through the gripping character of Angelina) that kept the experience feeling, yes harrowing, but also invigorating.