Matthew Steggles’ The Blinded Ride is a compelling work of political dystopia. The short film, which follows a group of British refugees hiding in the back of a van during a societal crisis, is intriguingly vague, asking more questions than it answers and refusing to indulge in the tropes which plague its genre. In leaving the grander narrative to the imagination, Steggles allows us to focus on the humanity in the dystopia.
The film is entirely set in the dark, cramped conditions of a van’s cargo hold. The claustrophobia and filth of the setting immediately tells us that we are in for a rough ride, and the set design here is simple yet incredibly effective. The characters, portrayed realistically and subtly by the cast, are either wide-eyed with fear or brimming with pent-up aggression. The fear and misery are palpable.
As the film progresses, the music becomes tense and suspenseful, evoking a sense of anxiety and dread which is exacerbated by the confusion of the actual events of the film. The action takes place mostly outside of the van, with muffled voices asking questions that we do not know the answers to, constantly cruel, angry and, occasionally, extremely violent. Steggles instils a sense of terrified confusion in the viewer, identifying us directly with the refugees themselves. We feel almost as if we are sitting in the van, a sense aided by the shaky, low-down camerawork of Lee Thomas.
The film is billed as a dystopia and, like all good dystopias, says more about the present than it does about an imagined future. By setting the film in the future and having British nationals act as the victims, Steggles reimagines the very real and current plight of the refugee in a way that cuts through the dominant thinking around the issue. In a manner reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf [France/Austria/Germany, 2003], Steggles forces us to contemplate the people behind the crisis, focusing on their dirty faces and the fear and worry in their eyes. While brief and perhaps slightly too understated, the film is powerfully emotional and politically savvy. The Blinded Ride may exist in an imagined world, but its horror is all too real.