You see, this is why I love short films – they build ideas so strongly and with the minimum of fuss in a short space of time. In the three very short minutes of Haven, I had invested so heavily in a family dynamic between a mother and daughter without even realising it that, when the little girl spoke “that final line” just before the film cut to black, I was shocked to my core. And I mean visibly, viscerally, shocked and shaking, so that I felt tears sting my eyes to echo the crying, the broken keening, the almost animalistic wail in the soundtrack over the end titles.
This is an even more amazing thing if you know me at all – because you’d know that I’m not a “family” person, I don't have close familial ties and no connection at all with children. I shouldn’t identify with the mother in this, played by Tika Simone, the character is clearly everything that I am not, and yet I do connect and it took a few watches to understand why, because it’s incredibly cleverly done. The setting feels so normal that you don’t really take account of it to start with… but no, it’s more than normal, it’s a nurturing household, clean and warm. The colour-schemes are all light, there’s toys in the girl’s bedroom, there’s a painting on the living-room wall of someone holding a baby. The radio is on in the background as Mum is chatting on the phone to a friend and the daughter, played by relative new-comer D’evina Chatrie, whose character seems to be about 9 or 10, plays in her room, brushing her doll’s hair. Mum, still on the phone, calls the girl through to sit at her feet and get her hair brushed too, which she does, happily. See? Everything normal; a loving, caring family dynamic. Into this cocoon of warmth, an ad comes on the radio and the girl, perfectly innocently, asks her Mum a question… OK, it was an unexpected question but not out of the realms of possibility that a girl that age would ask such a thing. But it's the next couple of lines that physically pull your attention to what they are talking about, give the viewer that sense of “what did she just say?" and "something's not right” so that, when that final line comes, spoken so matter of fact, just a statement of truth in a safe and nurturing environment, it sweeps the world out from under you at such a speed your mind is left in free-fall trying to deal with what just happened.
In the space of three minutes the characters, the dialogue, the direction, cinematography and set-dressing come together to build and shatter a family I neither knew of nor cared about just those few minutes before. Stunning, just stunning, work.
Image - Fyffe Films