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average rating is 3 out of 5


James Learoyd


Posted on:

Jul 8, 2024

Film Reviews
Directed by:
John Babu
Written by:
John Babu
Bryna Weiss, Michael Lake, David Richard

Optillus tells a most original story of a woman’s journey to overcoming past trauma. The form that this metaphor takes is that of optical illusions; specifically, pictures wherein the observer is able to see one of two hidden images. To base a story around this conceit is fantastically inventive and allows for some effective experimentation with filmic perspective – a word which is in fact integral to the movie’s plot. The twenty-to-thirty-minute mark is a challenging time frame for a film, both in terms of festival perception and narrative success, so Optillus was faced with a challenge which shouldn’t be overlooked. How the piece handles story structure, however, is arguably its strongest asset.


Our traumatised protagonist Ailia – played terrifically by Bryna Weiss – decides to join the police after establishing her unique illusion-based technique for sussing out criminals. One really admirable attribute of this story is just how much it focuses on process and technique. Much like the masterful teachings of classic French director Robert Bresson, it’s inherently engaging to witness the character carry out their unconventional task and all the practicalities that come with it. This is very much a film which devotes itself to the optical illusion concept – demonstrating, also, how fun the tricks can be. The main character’s emotional arc hangs on one particular image, and it’s an impactful way of showing and not telling.


To briefly discuss some areas of improvement, it mostly falls under the technical: specifically, audio and some instances of camera work. As I’ve said before, sound is without a doubt the most challenging part of filmmaking to get right and is thus a learning curve during the early stages. Additionally, if one lacks the resources or financials, it can prove to be practically impossible – especially if you’re shooting outside. The overall sound mix demonstrates a strong effort, but unfortunately you can’t fix everything.


The best thing about the short’s cinematography is how ambitious and inventive the setups are – at least in the abstract. This operates at its finest during the film’s best scene, when the two main characters go to an optical illusion exhibition. There’s a real beauty and romance to this sequence; it’s vibrant, dynamic and just thoroughly entertaining to behold. Unfortunately, the overall cinematic illusion is occasionally broken through the use of mobile phone footage... there’s nothing wrong with phone footage; however, the change in format can prove jarring to the eye.


But despite tech mishaps, it’s a drama so unlike any other and is clearly crafted from a place of passion. Audiences will appreciate the unabashed sincerity and thematic complexity of Optillus. Formal aspects hold the picture back from absolute greatness, but it boasts some wonderful storytelling. A couple of scenes become slightly repetitive or don’t work at all (such as the scene wherein the officer recalls why he wanted to work for the police), although for a short film almost half an hour long, I never lose interest or become bored. - That’s a testament to the emotional engagement of the narrative. Consisting of thoughtful characterisation and an optimistic sentiment, these are most definitely filmmakers and creatives to keep an eye out for.

About the Film Critic
James Learoyd
James Learoyd
Short Film
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