By Dan Barnes.
This new short film from director Kate Cheeseman (Roadkiller, Love Somehow) follows the young character of Evie, the new girl at school, who one day suffers an attack on her walk home. It tells the story via the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards as we slowly discover the truth surrounding the assault.
The film has been making some noise on the festival circuit in recent months, picking up awards at Cannes and Galway Fleadh, among others, and it isn’t difficult to see how the film has impacted so many.
The key factor behind its success isn’t so much in the story itself, but rather the way it’s being told to the audience. In the opening minutes, the intertwining sequences and shots may appear to be somewhat jarring, but as the film continues everything begins to come together rather beautifully. The editing neatly works alongside Carol Younghusband’s script, with the film’s continuity creating a mystery that engages the viewer throughout. What appears at first to be a fairly straight-forward story actually proves fairly unpredictable.
By the end, the story’s relatively short timeline all knits together with apparent ease, and we as an audience have grown attached to this character without even realising it. We feel sympathy for Evie thanks not only to the film’s script, but also the terrific central performance from newcomer Bessie Coates. She’s given very little dialogue to work with here, so it really shows great skill at such a young age to be able to convey such emotion so convincingly. Younghusband’s screenplay is terrific, but it is Coates who makes Evie feel like a real person. Her innocence, confusion, fears and self-doubt is never in question, and it’ll be interesting to see where this performance leads her.
Michael Jibson is perhaps better known for his theatrical work, and his performance as Evie’s teacher is certainly slightly different to what we’ve seen from him before, but the Olivier Award-winning actor plays his role with conviction, as does Sian Reeves, who offers a great deal as Evie’s mother, in spite of her minimal screen time. Her concern for her daughter is exceptionally convincing, and is never melodramatic, as if often the case with stories such as these. At no point do any of these performers overplay their roles. The held-back performances only help bring the story to life.
The film’s strengths lie in its subtleties. Nothing in the film is exaggerated. Words aren’t spoken when they’re not needed, the music isn’t overbearing, and we aren’t shown anything at any point without meaning. Cheeseman and Younghusband rely on their performers to sell their story, and it proves very successful, with the film’s standout moment being its poignant final scene, in which not a single word is spoken but the audience can feel everything the filmmakers want them to feel.
Sarah Warne’s score must also be praised, for its significant role in the final film mustn’t be understated. In a film with such little dialogue, the responsibility is on the composer to bring the audience in, and Warne’s hauntingly beautiful piano does exactly that. We feel uncomfortable at points, intrigued in others, and sad throughout, and the music captures the tone consistently, with Warne never overplaying her role, much like everybody else involved.
It’s really remarkable what this film is able to achieve in its brief 10-minute run time. It tells a successful mystery, hooking the viewer right up until the credits roll, but that never detracts from the emotional significance of a story like this. We not only see how this affects Evie, but also how it changes the lives of everyone around her. The long-term impact of something like this is felt in the final minutes, and at no point does it feel like it’s preaching.
The most impressive thing of all isn’t simply that it achieves everything it intends to in such a short space of time, but that it manages to do so while at no point becoming messy. It’s truly terrifying how many mega-budget productions aren’t able to structure a cohesive story in several hours, and the reason ‘What Happened To Evie’ never suffers the same fate is thanks to a well-constructed screenplay, some minimal yet convincing performances, and some very neat editing. It’s surprising how much effort can go into something that appears at first glance to be fairly simple, but that effort is never in doubt here, and it’s precisely why the film hits all the notes that it does. It’s one that demands to be seen, made by people who we need to see more from.
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