It’s always a pleasure when one comes away from a film, be it a short or a feature, with a feeling of a sort of…incompletion. Now, before you break out your slings and arrows, I don’t mean that the narrative is unresolved or that the film had an unsatisfactory ending, no indeed — it’s usually terrible filmmaking when that happens — nor am I discussing merely memorable movies, mind you. I’m talking about the kind of flicks that have you rolling their concepts around in your head, pondering uncertainties that were created in your mind, often in spite of the ending. Those films that, though complete, leave the imagination curious — the story’s told, the credits rolled — but there’s still wonderment in your mind. These films often touch upon something within us, be it on an emotional, philosophical, or other unquantifiable level — lingering in our minds, refusing to simply fade away with the final credits.
This kind of feeling, in my opinion, is the bread-and-butter of the format of short films; the brass ring I think every short filmmaker strains for, and it’s one that I got when I watched Patricia Chica’s 2014 short, Serpent’s Lullaby.
A single, coldly lovely woman comforts her infant child in her sprawling manse, and we’re privy to a scene of horror as something terrible obviously happens to the baby. The camera makes us an awkward observer, taking in the sights of the wealthy home as if not wanting to see the stricken child or impose upon the grief of the mother, instead only hearing her mournful cries of anguish. Finally, adorned in a post-modern kind of Gothic attire, we witness her bury the child in her odd little garden, lit only by the moonlight and the burning of a torch. There’s a sense of despair far beyond the melancholy of the darkened halls of the home, and with little wonder. However, as we move to a nearby park some days later in the still somehow subdued light of day, we see another young mother, pushing her baby about in a stroller, enjoying the day — but our first mother is here too, and she seems to stare with a strange longing at the other woman’s child — her presence is cordial, but somehow uncomfortably sinister. As the second young woman awkwardly hurries along with her child, what thoughts move behind the eyes of the despairing and somehow threatening other woman?
That’s about all I can give you and remain spoiler-free; suffice to say that although the clues to it’s inspired ending are there throughout the narrative, they serve only to misdirect your assumptions. Chica’s clever set ups and camera movements, along with the harshly beautiful, subdued pallor of the film, coalesce the emotions of sorrow and fear so well that it’s a complete mystery as to where the story is going — just when I thought the worst, I was wrong — then somewhat right — then wrong again. Alluding to my title of this review, the overall presentation is like a cold sliver of crystal: delicate, yet razor-sharp. Jenimay Walker, as the tragic mother, plays her role to the hilt, blending both sorrow and intimidation into a portrayal that fits the mystery of the film like a glove. The tale is rife with elements of tragedy and horror, but not in the way one might originally think. This emotional layering is brilliantly done, and my hat is most assuredly off to Chica and writer Charles Hall for evoking such a range of feeling from a film that has virtually no special effects, overt spoon-feeding to the audience, or even dialogue. Everything that you experience is through the feelings that are expressed.
And isn’t that what movies are all about?
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