For Pepper [Rebecca Singleton, Ireland, 2018] /// Purgatorium [Kamil Iwanowicz, UK, 2018]
Explaining the concept of death to a child can be incredibly challenging, since we can never know how that child will react. They might be sad, confused or, as demonstrated in For Pepper, angry. A delightfully funny black comedy, For Pepper examines the concept of death and vengeance through the eyes a young girl.
The short follows Anna, distraught and confused after learning that her pet budgie Pepper has died. As this is Anna’s first experience of mortal loss, her mother attempts to gently pacify Anna with divine reasoning, proposing that God has taken Pepper to heaven and is in a better place. Anna refuses to accept this rationale and she directs her anger towards God, becoming increasingly obsessed with death as she seeks revenge and hatches a plan to resurrect the budgie.
Her plan does not go unnoticed. After a call from the school, her mother starts to notice Anna’s odd behaviour and grows worried that her daughter's obsession with death and killing animals may turn her into something more dangerous. She tries to buy replacement pet fish, but Anna kills them with the hope that God will take them in return for Pepper, or failing that, capture God and force him to return the budgie.
The acting and delivery is the highlight of the film; both of the actresses are wonderful and perform their roles brilliantly. Arlene Morris plays the frustrated mother who cannot understand why her child is acting out in this way. Sarah White (who plays Anna) conveys extremely well the rage that consumes her character. The story is interesting in that both characters are placed into a situation they do not fully understand or react to in rational ways.
Writer/director Rebecca Singleton’s student short provides visible evidence of talent and creativity. The writing is simple and efficient, at times feeling like a (slightly more) psychotic Home Alone [Chris Columbus, USA, 1990] with God (or the idea thereof) in place of the buffoonish, bumbling burglars.
The technical aspects of the film are what hold the film back somewhat. In its defence, the film was made on a low budget and it manages to work well with its limited resources. The cinematography and lighting work well together and the sound design particularly stands out. One notable scene is where, as Anna is devising her plan, we hear bells chime in the background, which signify peacefulness and innocence, in direct contrast with Anna’s sinister motives playing out in front of us.
For Pepper is a delightful black comedy that examines the theme of death and its effects on a young child. With excellent writing and performances combined, Rebecca Singleton creates a thoughtful and entertaining short film.
Purgatorium is an experimental black comedy that explores the seven deadly sins and purgatory. Writer and director Kamil Iwanowicz creates a visually haunting and beautiful nightmare that examines how the deadly sins manifest themselves and interact with the recently deceased.
The film follows Leon, who has recently died and finds himself in purgatory and surrounded by physical manifestations of the seven deadly sins. He must navigate his way through limbo to discover why he is there and find a way to escape.
The film has two principle strengths. The first is its technical elements. The lighting, sound and cinematography are all expertly combined to create an aesthetic evocative of hell, and the effect is brilliant. The second is the character design and acting. The performances are strong, particularly Thomas Crownhurst who plays Leon. He is the straight man reacting to the chaos that surrounds him.
Leon is not alone in this ‘purgatorium’; the personified deadly sins are also present in order to guide him. They all have distinctive appearances that reflect the sin they represent. One of the most interesting amongst them is Claudia, who represents Greed. She is excited by food to the point of obsession and she continues to eat despite the effects it has on her, reflecting the dangers of the sin.
Beyond these aforementioned points, the film fails in a few areas. The characters look great but, in some cases, they do not always clearly act the part. The character of Lust, for example, wears a gimp mask but does nothing else to prove he is an adequate embodiment of this particular sin. He merely talks to Leon rather than salaciously drooling over him. Pride wears lingerie but fails to show us what makes her particularly prideful and, frankly, she appears rather normal.
Another problem with the “seven deadly sins” conceit is that Iwanowicz doesn’t even give us all seven. We only get 'Greed', 'Lust', 'Pride', 'Wrath' and 'Gluttony', but 'Envy' and 'Sloth' are nowhere to be seen, the implication being that Leon is one of them, but the film doesn’t resolve to intimate which. The film also introduces the characters by revealing textually which sin they represent. It would have been more interesting to have the characters act the part rather than the viewer being told.
Purgatorium exhibits a combination of excellent camera work, lighting and sound design, producing a terrifying aesthetic designed to unsettle. But the screenplay, which fails to embrace logistically its own overarching concept, holds the film back.
'For Pepper' and 'Purgatorium' were film submissions in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.