An innocuous and almost childlike conversation between two friends turns into a dark stupor as they finally reach their destination hidden deep inside a forest. Paul Ashton’s Shallow is a darkly tongue-in-cheek provocation of what we commonly assume to be the makings of a ‘good’ person – explored by way of an unexpected deep dive into the mostly forgotten canine Disney superhero, Air Bud [Charles Martin Smiths, USA, 1997].
Larry and Barry casually engage in light-hearted and sometimes gossipy conversation, the kind normally enjoyed over a few pints in the pub, but these two instead carry shovels through the woods. There are hints from the very beginning that what we’re looking at isn’t just a happy day trip outside of the city for the two men, as ominous music creeps in from the very first scene opening on the deadpan face of Michael Shon (who plays Larry).
Shon plays his character as intense and brooding, whilst Joe Johnsey as Barry is the more cheerful, non-threatening, gentle giant who, wistfully listing off franchise sequels and superhero showdowns, bring the audience’s guard down in defiance of the gloom intimated by the sinister screeching of the string score. The tension throughout the film intensifies and then dissipates in unexpected moments of tenderness, revealing the two to be glimmering beacons of non-toxic masculinity, men in touch with their emotions, open-minded, and supportive.
The set-up, together with the title of the short itself, feels like something of a nod toward the macabre Shallow Grave [Danny Boyle, UK, 1994] but, unlike its iconic predecessor, Shallow isn’t about the protagonists turning on each other, but rather the story turning the expectations of the viewer.
The cinematography is beautiful, the woods stunningly captured in their peaceful eeriness. But the real strength of the film is its dialogue, which is as funny and witty as it is believable. As viewers, we rarely expect a character who performs community work or congratulates a friend adopting new gender pronouns to be anything less than a good person – and it is through the subversion of our expectations that Shallow intelligently manages to dig deeper into the heart of larger cultural issues.
'Shallow' was part of the Official Selection at Short Focus Film Festival 2021.