THE SON, THE FATHER (15)
Director: Lukas Hassel
Screenplay: Lukas Hassel
Starring: Lukas Hassel, Colleen Carey, Lucas Oktay, Christopher Morson
Review: RJ Bland
Currently beginning a festival run, The Son, The Father is the second short from actor and screenwriter Lukas Hassel. Although the Danish-born film-maker is probably best known in front of the camera (he starred opposite Natasha Henstridge in the outrageously fun The Black Room), his directorial debut 'Into the Dark' (2014) showed a natural ability behind it as well. The sci-fi short was ambitious and intense with an undercurrent of dark humour running throughout. And whilst The Son, The Father is a bit more understated and poised, there is still a thread of black wit in it's veins.
One of the keys to all good short films is to not try and cram too much into the limited amount of time available. A simple, well told idea or story is always preferable to a bombardment of concepts, characters and action. Sometimes less is more and in The Son, The Father we get just that. An intriguing yet relatively small-scale concept that brims with confidence.
It may be Luke's birthday but as he returns home after school and stares at his own front door with a look of trepidation, it's clear that this isn't necessarily going to be a happy occasion. Sure enough, he enters to find his mother (Carey) collapsed on the floor. He goes into shock and remains rooted to the spot. Finding one of your parents dead is the kind of incident that can mess a kid up for life. However she isn't dead at all. The whole thing is a sick joke. His mum chastises him for being so unresponsive and for wetting himself. Luke's dad (Hassel) returns home moments later and asks what the hell is going on. His wife promptly tells him that their son has failed an 'emergency response test'. When Luke runs off, his birthday ruined, his mother quips 'why is everyone so serious around here?'. As he lays in bed, listening to his parents argue in another room, young Luke gets an idea.
What happens after this is a potent mixture of tragedy, very black comedy and domestic drama. To go into any more detail about the plot itself would spoil the satisfaction of what comes next. There is a great twist near the end that you hopefully won't see coming - and it really takes the short to another level. Again, divulging any further details would spoil the fun. In fact, telling you that there is even a twist feels spoilery enough as it is.
Suffice to say the final scene is a nice way to close things out and continues the playful approach to the way the timeline in the movie is carefully managed. Hassel cleverly manipulates both time and perspective to produce something that is constantly changing and leaves you guessing and second guessing at every turn. It's a thoroughly engaging piece that hooks you very quickly (always important with a short) and retains your interest through every beat. Watching a kid suffer emotional abuse from a parent is always going to be quite sad but this isn't a morose portrayal of bad parenting, it's a smart, tense – and often funny – take on it. Yet it still retains a sense of emotional truth to proceedings.
One of the reasons The Son, The Father is so successful is down to the quality of the acting on display. You'd think that with such limited screen time that it would be difficult to shine but each manages to do just that. Lucas Oktay manages to portray the troubled (and fragile) kid with great maturity and Christopher Morson (who plays him as a teenager) has an unsettling screen presence that isn't easy to achieve. He's almost got an Ezra Miller type vibe. Hassel is in fine form as usual as the conflicted father but it's the performance of Colleen Carey as the alcoholic mother that steals the show. She's able to elicit dread and fear whilst also managing to generate a couple of big laughs too. She's a real menace. If she was my mother I think I'd have serious emotional problems right now (well, more than the ones I currently have anyway). Even the next door neighbour (Sharva Maynard) gets to deliver a wicked line or two as well.
The script itself is efficient yet intelligent. You don't want to be wasting dialogue in a ten minute production and every line is justified here. Even the early interactions between the kid and his neighbour don't feel superfluous. Their exchange feels considered and relevant. And there are some great one-liners in there too. Hassel marries this sharp writing up with attentive direction. He's not afraid to let the camera linger at the end of a scene and neither is he willing to let experimental camera-work overpower the performances of his talented cast. This isn't the work of a novice who overdoes it. It's the style of a confident film-maker who trusts his actors and the story he wants to tell. And we're hoping he has a few more to share after this.