Oct 25, 2022
Peter Jang, Gabrielle LaJudice, Tim Neff
“In War, there are no unwounded soldiers.”
An unnamed fighter is training in the gym. We know he's a veteran because of the quotation at the start of the film and the first shot, which is of his American flagged baseball cap on top of a camouflage military pack. We listen to a message from a woman, his wife? She's relaying mundane details and is really just checking in, looking for some communication. Everything seems fractured and distant to the boxer, as though the fight is the only thing that matters, but soon enough the bullets and hails of gunfire come crashing to the fore and he tries his best to purge these impressions onto the punching bag.
When another guy suddenly turns up in the gym, making sure he's being seen and heard, our fighter packs up his stuff and leaves. Is the other guy being deliberately aggressive? Is he just offering mutual recognition, or does he actually want a fight? The unnamed soldier just can't seem to set things straight in his head, so he's off out to his car to do what he's been thinking about doing this whole time.
Writer, director, producer and star, Peter Jang's Mask is unashamedly striking and bare about its depiction of PTSD. Along with fellow producer and DoP Juan Mosqueda, they have both crafted a solid short film that packs a heavy punch in delivering its message to the audience. Jang's writing and direction offer subtle markers in amongst the obvious artillery, which serve to highlight the broken, solitary feeling in the fighter's mind, such as not using dialogue in the first half; only having speech heard as distant or somehow removed; having characters not use any names and repeating sound, images and time-frames. Meanwhile Mosqueda's cinematography keeps the real life gritty and real whilst also making clear the disconnect when the lines begin to blur.
It's clear that plenty of time, effort and craft went into the making of Mask and the result is a well presented, brutal look at the suffering of combat veterans. Both Jang and Mosqueda use their skills effectively to tell the story of the unnamed soldier and bring out every trick they've learned along the way to keep the narrative lively, the visuals striking and the sound encompassing.
There can never be too many reminders that we need to look at people's suffering and see when they need help, especially when it comes to those who may hide those feelings away and are susceptible to suicide. Mask takes its place firmly amongst a raft of others highlighting PTSD among veterans and stands its ground as vital and raw.