In the age or ageing of COVID-19, former barriers—between work and play, community and solidarity, movement and stasis—have melted away. All people have become—whether by choice or necessity—hosts, filmmakers and voyeurs, offering webcam-based views into their worlds. So, what’s the true measure of how unhinged or emotive things can become?
In Mike Spence’s Covid Tales: House Party, three friends—Cookie, Frank, and Oz (played by Mike Spence)—come together to virtually reconnect. But after a fantastical development, they’re left to cope with new implications for their friendship dynamic and individual lives. True-to-life, (or, at least, life now), the cinematography leans into claustrophobic POV shots through computer screens, the blurred edges of the frames and close-ups selling their containment. The editing and pacing feel a bit choppy, but it’s consistent with what’s being presented: snippets of lives as perceived by others. But though the actors portray the characters earnestly and with commitment, the writing ultimately limits them.
Between ever-shifting characterisation and some tonal whiplash, it’s hard to not feel at screen’s length from the trio. This is exasperated further by some direction choices that don’t quite mesh with the need for deeper connection, specifically how each act is told from a different character’s perspective. Mike Spence’s ambition as a director and writer is commendable, but perhaps putting more focus on plot payoffs instead could have driven the narrative further. As it stands, it feels like the story is just ramping up to say and be something larger, only to be cut off.
Covid Tales: House Party has both the charms and edges that come with quarantine filmmaking. Its strange, otherworldly vibe feels equal parts intentional and unfounded, weird in the right ways and endearing in how it does and doesn’t choose to take itself seriously. And while not entirely realising the scope it sets for itself, its charms are certainly intoxicating, not unlike prolonged usage of a computer with people knowable and esoteric, close and far, all at once.