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Grace [Gaetano Ghiura, UK, 2018] /// Jax in Love [Colin Campbell, USA, 2017]

May 14, 2019

Grace sees the transformation of a woman from a victim to a killer. This film, written and directed by Gaetano Ghiura, is a slick homage to the film noir genre. Yet, while the smooth production of the piece stands testament to the film crew’s ability, it is not enough to overcome the thinness of the plot.

 

The film opens in a dank basement as Donnie approaches a bloodied woman lying on a mattress. He tenderly hands her a necklace before forcing her to shoot someone in the head. The imbalance of power between Donnie, a well dressed white man as well as a charitable killer, and Grace, a terrified and vulnerable woman, is a little grating. It could be argued that a member of a murderous gang does not deserve the extra long shots of his puppy dog eyes, and it would perhaps be a little more original if the female character were not completely and utterly at the mercy of a man.

 

Although this combination of cruelty and kindness could be a sign of a complex and nuanced character, the lack of explanation behind Donnie’s actions refuse this opportunity. This is an issue that runs throughout the whole film, as the absence of clear motivations and backgrounds of these characters makes the story quite confusing.

Most strikingly, Grace’s transition from victim to killer is left to the imagination of the audience. The plot jumps from her ‘liberation’ from the basement straight to five years later, where she seems to be a high-ranking member of the gang that once abused her. Good for her, you might say, but skipping out the story of how and why she got here just leaves her character a little thin. Without these explanations, the violence in this short has no emotional resonance beyond the shock of a bullet in the head.

 

The stylish scenes and strong performances from Pip Barclay (Donnie) and Sharon Singh (Grace) are a good example of filmmakers still finding their feet, but this film may have benefited from fully exploring the background and emotional potential of a smaller portion of plot.

Hitchhikers are now a rare sight on our roads, and horror stories like this one are perhaps to blame (or to thank, depending on your opinions). Jax in Love is another testament to why strangers in confined spaces are rarely a good idea. With an unpredictable plot and a complicated character, this film turns the upbeat, all-American road trip on its head and explores one extreme way of coping with loneliness and loss.

 

Initially, this plot seems all too predictable: a car breaks down in the middle of nowhere; a lone woman is forced to seek help and finds the opposite. It is easy to let out a sigh of defeat as Jax hails a car down with her breasts (and just a side note, if someone will only pull over after you’ve flashed them then you probably don’t want them to stop). Following this, her giggly interaction with the two grisly oafs who try to assault her provokes exasperated eye rolls. But this character is not that simple.

 

Quite the opposite of a ditzy damsel in distress, Jax proves to be complex and dangerous at the same time. While the film does a fairly good job in portraying the motivations behind her drive to kill, the themes surrounding this topic are vast and complicated, and it could have worked better if there were a more thorough exploration of her isolation and tragic past.

It should also be noted (both in short and feature length films) that offhand references to dead parents with no follow-up are not a one-stop shop to profundity. This trope crops up all too often as a way to combat frivolity (take Steve Antin’s Burlesque [USA, 2010] for example). Although in this film the death of Jax’s parents and her childhood best friend do contribute somewhat to the understanding of the character and the plot, the lack of a proper examination of these factors makes them fall flat.

 

The final gruesome murder, on the other hand, is useful in helping us understand Jax’s motivations behind her terrible behaviour. While the violence is horrifying to watch, it is not merely for the sake of gore but helps illuminate the meaning behind Jax’s actions. 

 

Despite the seemingly uninspired start, this film is more original and more twisted than it first appears. In a similar way to Grace, it would have benefitted from a more nuanced depiction of its characters, and both of these pieces emphasise that short films should not be considered as feature length pieces in miniature but as a different form altogether.

 

‘Grace’ and ‘Jax in Love’ were both films in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.

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