Knots & Crosses: A Life in Lockdown
Nov 14, 2023
Lee D. Barnes
Lee. D Barnes
Lee D. Barnes, Nikki Hellens, Nick Payne
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Critics Chris Olson and Brian Penn host UK Film Club - a new film podcast covering all film types. From blockbusters to old favourites and even indie & shorts.
Knots & Crosses: A Life in Lockdown’s original release in August 2020, during the height of the Covid pandemic is demonstration of director and star Lee D. Barnes’ accomplishment in creating a what is a very personal project. However despite the remarkable circumstances of its creation, the short lacks cohesion or refinement which mean it cannot live up to the emotionally charged subject matter.
Jack (Lee D. Barnes) is recording a video addressed to his father at the height of the covid lockdown. Recounting their troubled relationship, he details how he moved closer to his father’s care home in order to rebuild their bond. But lockdown happened. And Jack’s life crumbled with isolation and anxiety as the world ground to a halt. Jack searches for meaning in life and looks out for sign that his life will repair itself – but shocking news forces him to reconsider everything.
Viewed retrospectively in the context of pandemic’s significance makes Knots & Crosses a fascinating look back at a time of existential dread, anxiety and uncertainty. Lee Barnes’ emotional and raw short captures the difficulty and loneliness many felt during lockdown, and that many felt may never end. Jack’s unfiltered angst must be viewed in the context of a character unsure of how the world may end up. There is a tendency to look back now at the experiences he undergoes in the film and refer them against the viewer’s own. The film does state that is made ‘by the people of lockdown for the people of lockdown’ (so, everyone…), and in many cases the experiences audiences will have had may not be as dramatic as Jack’s are in the film. But placing oneself in the headspace of 2020 is a fairer and more affecting insight into Barnes’ aim. The psychological difficulties Jack experiences are more understandable given this context, as are some of his actions.
The film’s dialogue is unrefined and unpolished, with Jack’s message full of exposition, soundbites and repetition. Given the video is meant to be raw and told in a ‘stream of consciousness’ state, this is somewhat allowable, but upon delivery in the film itself it lacks a sense of authenticity and feels overly stagey and scripted. Furthermore, the story itself features actions that are driven primarily by dramatic purpose rather than relatable action. Jack’s decision to switch his phone off for an extended time, resulting in him becoming more and more isolated and missing an important update on his father is rather inexplicable, and feels like it only happens in order to permit story development. Rather than a smooth and coherent plot, Jack appears to be on a misery cruise that takes inexplicable twists and turns that can’t really be justified or understood – even allowing for unusual lockdown-driven behaviour.
Barnes’ performance in the leading role is overacted and fails to really convince that the viewers are watching a realistic depiction of someone struggling with the issues many felt over lockdown. Portraying Jack in a constant state of high emotion robs the performance of subtlety and depth, and makes empathy and care harder to attain. The character never feels authentic, and his trauma and mental health issues therefore are harder to understand or extract meaning from.
Whilst Knots & Crosses does serve as an interesting insight into the impact lockdown had on mental health, the fundamentals of the story are not strong enough to cover up some of its flaws that are production inherent. Better films more accurately capture life in lockdown, and the story of the film’s protagonist fails to really convince enough to make this one outlive its circumstances.