A young deaf man gets trapped in his house when he becomes entangled in a nasty real estate dispute with his murderous next-door neighbor. As he struggles to overcome his fears, open captions take the audience inside our deaf hero's head.
THIS IS NORMAL is about a young Deaf woman named Gwen who undergoes an experimental medical procedure that is supposed to 'cure' her of her deafness and give her the ability to hear. Despite the controversy, Gwen risks her friends, culture, and identity to discover the answer to the question, 'Is it worth giving up who you've BEEN for the 'maybe' you could BECOME?' Written by
Engaging use of sound, although needed more to expand the story and character rather than just the sound aspect (SPOILERS)
I try not to pay attention to write-ups and comments from others before I watch a short film; usually the investment of time is less than a feature, so I am happy to find out the hard way if something is no good, but also there is a lot less time for me to get over my preconceptions so lots of praise or criticism either way means I may not make my own mind up during it, which I dislike. However on the blog I watched this on, it was hard not to see the title regularly popping up in the comments with positive praise, so maybe I went in expecting rather than with fresh eyes.
The plot joins Gwen ahead of an operation where stem cells can hopefully restore her hearing from deafness to near-full "normality". We see this news being delivered to her deaf friends and not being well received, while her mother (who never wanted a deaf daughter) is clearly overjoyed to finally have the shot at a "normal" daughter. The film plays out this drama as Gwen heads towards the surgery and faces a situation where her ability to hear will impact her entire world. It is an interesting piece and it is one that is made more interesting by virtue of the delivery. The sound in particular is a lot more engaging than I expected although many films benefit from a bigger screen and sound set-up, this film worked very well with a good set of headphones. The reason for this is that the sound varies between silence, "normal", and muffled, depending on the situation. It sounds like a gimmick and, although it is a bit, it is effective at what it does.
The sound in particular helps with the main point of the film; which is Gwen restoring her hearing and experiencing that sense of wonder at the clarity of it all. This is a big moment for the short and it does it well, however there are too many other moments where it doesn't do so well. The supporting characters exist, and we have dialogue scenes with them, but mostly they are broadly drawn. Some of the supporting performances are good, but mostly the scenes feel a bit forced and unnatural. For me this caused the film's biggest weakness, which is that it presented the hope that this would be a real character piece, with Gwen almost having to start a new life simply by virtue of wanting to be rid of her disability. The idea that this makes her like her mother (wanting the problem gone) is also on the table, along with the impact on friends (as if she wants to be "better" than them) and other aspects of her life. Sadly these are not as well explored, as the film instead focuses on the sound aspect, and the character seems to fit second in the list.
This weakness is compensated for by a great performance from Turner; she is natural in a way most of the performances are not and only once or twice does the dialogue or scene make her a little clunky. If I felt something, it was mostly because of a combination of the sound design with her feelings to changes in sensation; she is very good, although not perhaps good enough to carry the whole piece by herself. This is particularly hard since the film runs to 20 minutes. Personally I thought the time would be fine because it holds out a lot it wants to do, but when it doesn't do it so well, then it feels overly long it could have done this with less time and focused on the core it ended up doing anyway.
An interesting short film for the story, for Turner's performance, and for the sound design; however the lack of exploration of the impact of the change, some clunky writing, and a weak development of the character in her old and new world, all limit the film in the narrative and emotional impact that it could have had.
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