A Good Home
27 Aug 2021
Charis Beth Swartley, Jackie Maruschak, Jake R. Robbins
There’s domestic trouble rumbling away in Harvey Kingsley-Elton’s inversely titled A Good Home. Kingsley-Elton directs a 13-minute short which presents Jodie (Charis Beth Swartley), an estranged daughter who makes an unexpected re-entry into her family home, after she sees a video of her brother Charlie (Jake R. Robbins) getting involved in a fight.
Director of Photography Elizabeth Vrklan helps realise A Good Home’s strongest suit—its visuals. The family home is clad entirely in white, while Jodie and Charlie are dressed predominantly in black (a directional choice to get behind). Their dark attire represents the emotional cavern the two find themselves in, though this thematic reading isn’t as important as the aesthetic—it’s plain interesting to look at. The sonics however are on the weaker side. Emily Wong’s orchestral score excessively punctuates intended moments of drama, given that we barely know these characters and their relationships rely on assumed context. And the following point isn’t a specific criticism of Wong—in isolation her sparse, ethereal chamber music would be a stark aural footprint. The problem is sparse, ethereal chamber music is very much a vogue of film scoring in 2021, and in that environment it sounds too familiar.
Now, short films have narrative pressures. Plot and character details that would be automatically included in a feature film have to be sacrificed, but not at the expense of cohesion. There’s a balance between being so explicit you bludgeon the viewer, and being so reticent you lose their attention. In shorts it’s the latter one would expect to crop up, and that’s what happens in A Good Home. Take this official synopsis:
"Jodie ran away from a loveless home two years ago, and has been scraping by on her own ever since. After she learns that her younger brother has been fighting people at school, Jodie must re-enter her past life to pull him from their mother's oppressive grasp before his situation gets even worse. After wading through and re-igniting past conflicts with a new perspective, she must decide whether her brother is the one that needs saving after all."
Only Jodie’s estrangement is clearly shown by the film—the rest is a bare sketch. That includes Jodie’s financial position, the "past conflicts", her goal to "save" her brother. Ann’s domineeringness is hinted at, but not portrayed. I suppose we can infer from the synopsis that she is to blame for driving Jodie away, but that’s an inference based on external material and not on what we see. Gladly though, the overall verdict isn’t as downbeat. A Good Home is a well-produced if insubstantial bottle-drama that survives on good looks alone, like a cinematic Love Island contestant.