By Orla Smith.
Blaring ambulance sirens set the tone for Heard, a London-based religious short that plays more like a music video, or one of those non-specific adverts that seem to only exist for the purpose of making you feel very, very bad.
The whole ordeal scored to one generically sad piece of music, it builds to a cacophony of over-egged crying and screaming, pitched to feel like an incessantly annoying ringing in your ears.
We’re presented with a series of tragic scenarios – a little boy covering his ears to drown out the sound of his arguing parents, a man living with a cancer that he refuses to medically address, a woman who has lost a loved one to a car accident… At four minutes, the film only gives itself time to glance at each of their lives. Their suffering is reduced to a couple of shots each of crying, and just looking, y’know, sad – in a non-specific sort of way.
But at least they’re pretty shots. Cinematographer Pete Coggan is the greatest asset that Heard has. He shoots the film in an unusually wide aspect ratio, both the interiors and the mountainous vistas stretching across the screen like pieces of ribbon.
But director Chris Smyth has no idea how to harness this powerful image-making. At one point, one of his actresses, mid-cry, whimpers out a strained ‘why’ into the distance. It’s one of the only pieces of dialogue in a very noisy film, and it rings shockingly hollow. The credits name these characters Fear, Anxiety and Loss, and I couldn’t think of anything more apt; these aren’t real people. They’re vague echoes of what real people are. They’re blurry reflection of fear, anxiety and loss. Naming them would be giving them too much credit.
The film’s ending attempts to add a touch of hope to its misery fest, but it’s hard to parse any meaning from it whatsoever. Heard begins and ends with two quotes that might clue its audience into what it’s trying to say.
The problem is, if you take away those bookends the actual film itself in no way supports their message. With those quotes, we know what the film wants us to take away: that ‘the cries of man echo into the heavens’. Without them? Well, I could only guess, but perhaps we’re being told that if you’re in pain, don’t worry! Some dude will take your stuff and leave it at the top of a mountain, and it’ll all be okay.
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