Reverie [Henry McClellan, USA, 2018] /// Engrammic [Billie Williams, UK, 2018]
Reverie is a delightful hand drawn animation that should be regarded as a must-see for anyone who claims to have a keen interest in the medium of animated film. The pencil drawn style utilised by animator Henry McClellan doesn’t claim mimesis, but instead reminds the viewer that this is a story that someone has imagined, a stylistic choice that benefits the main character’s unstable mental state. For the film’s Director Statement, filmmaker McClellan discusses the function of hand drawn animation, observing the ‘function of the drawn…as a direct realisation of the mythical’, a view that is clearly observed in this piece.
The viewer follows the character Meryl as she goes to visit an elderly woman in a care home. Once there, Meryl’s reality begins to blur as events happening in a TV nature documentary begin to disseminate into the real world. Reverie’s logline on its IMDB page comes with a warning to its viewers: ‘Don’t read too closely into the bad omens’, and such caution would do well to reassure its viewers given its, at times, menacing scenery. On first viewing, the events of the film appear sinister, as the neighbouring bird population find themselves under threat from a shape-shifting demon. Eventually, the logline’s warning rings true, and the viewer learns more about the emotional complexity of the demon they have observed, through its interactions with Meryl.
Reverie is beautifully drawn and shows off the artist’s considerable talent for his craft. Moments of characterisation are handled with particular care, as with the detailed facial expressions on Meryl’s face when she gasps, the exasperated way in which she drums her fingers on the top of the fridge when looking for food, down to smaller details, such as the way a receptionist twirls a pen when handling it.
One notable stylistic choice was the decision to draw certain objects as see-through, giving them no illusion of depth or substance, as when Meryl’s car drives through its local surroundings. The style therefore makes some objects appear intangible whilst others are more solid, leaving deliberate contradictions present in Meryl’s world.
Reverie exhibits a great deal of variation in its afforded level of detail. At some moments, backgrounds are done away with altogether, whilst in others (such as the opening motorbike sequence), they are afforded greater specifying detail and additional attention to shading.
Often in independent animations, the considerable visual talent of the animator finds itself let down by a sound design that fails to live up to the film’s vision. Reverie can have no such criticism fielded at it, as its use of foley sounds, and soundtrack are of a truly impressive standard, contributing to the vision of the piece as a whole.
One stylistic choice that appears at odds with the rest of the piece is the decision to make Meryl’s movements jerky, in a sequence near the middle of the film where she is preparing a boiled egg. This apparent drop in frame rate doesn’t appear to add any real significance to the events being observed, but instead is more likely to leave viewers wondering if something has gone awry with their broadband connection.
Fittingly given its title, the act of observing Reverie is a dream, one that could and should be enjoyed by any casual film viewer with an interest in a hand drawn animation style. Hand drawn water sequences, such as when Meryl cries in the rain, or fills up a glass from the tap, are truly mesmeric in their beauty and cement animator Henry McClellan as a filmmaker of real nous.
Engrammic utilises its own audio-visual language in order to offer up an envisioning of director Billie William’s childhood memories of her parent’s divorce. Fittingly, the short is bittersweet, heavily reliant on imagery that is at times both heartbreaking and uplifting.
Engrammic affords the viewer only fleeting images and sequences of interaction with physical objects such as feathers falling, ink dripping and flowing hair submerged in water. The short film begins with an image of a glass of water being filled, which heartbreakingly comes full circle until we see the half full glass being drained away. In between is an array of striking images, some whose significance are clear (such as a dropped wedding ring), and others that leave greater need for interpretation (such as the folding away of a dress).
The choice of images and their sequential ordering is one of the film’s notable strengths. Many of the images are kept abstract, with these sandwiched alongside more blatant imagery, such as a young girl drowning or a child’s doll being pulled in opposite directions by oppressive hands. The result is that the viewer is never left stranded but, instead, is taken along with the director’s memories with care and attention.
Whilst at times the composition of scenes is impressively accomplished (e.g. a sunflower falling through water), at other times they appear a little amateurish, for example when droplets of ink fall onto a fake sunflower staining its petals. Most of the film’s sequences are shot head-on, with the object they observe filmed against a plain white background. Moments that stray from this formula, including the rippling movement of a naked human stomach give the piece some much needed variation, but find themselves tragically underused.
Engrammic offers up a promising film in the catalogue of a young filmmaker. It exhibits the filmmaker's obvious promise though, at times, it does exhibit the hallmarks of a typical student film.
'Reverie' and 'Engrammic' were film submissions in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.