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An engaging tale with plenty to draw from, which is delivered by two very strong performances
Another commenter here on IMDb writes that this film plays like a darker version of the basic frame provided in Princess Bride with an adult telling a child a story with a moral, albeit a rather violent one, and it is a reference which is well made. The setup for this occurs late in a stormy night, where a father sits with his 4-5 year old son, who has had a nightmare and cannot sleep. He asks his father to tell him the story of his mother again, which his father does with a tale spanning centuries with the importance of love and devotion holding true across it all.
With the delivery of this, we never leave the bedroom of the young boy; sound is occasionally used to add to the dialogue but in terms of the camera, it is all about the one location and the fixed two characters. In some ways this makes the filming process easier, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the writing and performances, because if you are not into the dialogue, then there is really very little else for you to be held by. Credit to the film then, because the telling of this odd story is as engaging to the viewer as it is to the small child. In terms of content it is an odd mix of dark adult content, childish wonderment, and the type of acceptance and wisdom that only comes with living through some decades it is a constantly shifting series of strange bedfellows, but yet it works really well indeed. There is a downside that you can get drawn into the specifics so much that you look for the whole backstory to be revealed at the end, but this is only temporary because it is in the end a story told to a child, and it is the themes and morals within the story that are where the reality is occurring and in this area it delivers.
The production may not leave the room, but it still looks great. It has great lighting to produce a warm and safe look throughout. This is matched by the performances, which are equally warm and safe, but yet also don't flinch from the tough story being told. In the lead, Oldham gets this really spot-on; he is honest, engaging, convincing, and his delivery contains affection as it should. The boy is just as good, and perhaps more impressive for being only 4; he has great chemistry with Oldham, and his responses seem real for his character but yet also fitting the tone of the short as a whole I do not know how Lowery got this from him, but it is great work.
Pioneer is a very contained film physically, but the story is large and engaging expanding outwards from the room, while at the same time totally reinforcing the singular importance of the family unit within it, and the bond between the two.
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