Powerful short from a talented young filmmaker with plenty of visual flair
Would you kill somebody to save your child's life? This is the question that provided the germ for up-and-coming Manchester-based filmmaker Sam Jones' latest short. The focus of this entirely student-made venture is a murky society in which it becomes clear that the Lifeline of the title for one character, is the end of the line for another. It's a dog-eat-dog set-up with money as the driving force. From the outset Jones does a great job of creating an unerring sense that there is something deeply wrong with how our society has ended up.
The narrative grips immediately, cutting between a fraught-yet- determined Rebecca Manley and stark, bleak shots of a family in extreme poverty, haunted by a sense of dread and desperation. As the music swells and Manley enters the death-maze that proves to be her final hope, the film enters slightly more conventional territory, holding its audience in a fight for survival where danger literally lurks around every corner.
There's more to Lifeline than being a low-budget Hunger Games-with- grit however. There is neither the time nor the budget to add in a love-triangle or even glimpse how this kill-to-live scenario has come about. This means that the focus is instead on the morals of a decidedly amoral situation. Lifeline is not just about survival, it's not even just about choosing between yourself and others; it's about choosing between saving some people and not others. The casting, as it will be at every stage of Sam Jones' career, is key. This is not just because of an excellent performance from young Matilda Freeman or the terrific embodiment of desperation from Manley, but because of Jones' choice of the cast as a whole. The mix of ages, genders and races helps get to the heart of the film. Why do we prioritise some people over others? We immediately fear for a young, vulnerable girl, but the older, heavy-set Vauxhall Jermaine will take the role of antagonist in many minds. In a bold, brilliant piece of imagery, blood falls from Jermaine's wounded eye, resembling a tear. His vulnerability on the inside has seeped through so the audience can realise how helpless every one of these characters is. They are not killing each another inside this palace of death, it is what is outside that is killing them all.
Dark, depressing, dystopian thoughts, but as Jones himself is keen to point out, there is hope. This comes not just in the frighteningly young girl at the centre of the horror, but from other character's actions late on. The sacrificial, Christ-like ending borders on over-the-top, but gets away with it because it fits so well with the film's progression and Jones' love of confident, bold imagery. This is all rather brilliant, but the job's not done yet. Although some of the bold, brave shots are strikingly effective, such an intensity could not be kept for 90 minutes. Lifeline plays like the utterly compelling opening to a film that could end up sagging in the middle. To make the transition to feature length, it will take great skill to expand his extreme vision of society, without losing the coherency that holds Lifeline together. The dialogue may need to be worked on too. In Lifeline it is all it needs to be – simple and functional. In the future, more complex, articulate dialogue may be required. Jones has expressed a preference for directing, so collaborating with another on the script could be a good move for him.
These are minor criticisms of a generally extremely impressive film however. As well as the ability to coax great performances from his cast and excellent use of sound throughout, Jones' directorial flair is enhanced by his great choice of location. The vast space of the Victoria Baths in Manchester allows plenty of scope for the characters to face off against each other, the dark brutality of their actions contrasting with the clean emptiness of the drained swimming pool. All of these elements show skill and dedication and they are all brought together into something that unwaveringly holds the audience's attention. In case you hadn't got the message, Sam Jones is talented. Very talented.
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