Reviews Short Narrative

Validity (2019) – 3.5 stars

Director: Meena Ayittey

Writers: Meena Ayittey

Cast: Lauren Douglin, Colette Zacca, Niamh, Colin Foulkes, Giovanni Bienne, Chris Pollick, Carly Lindon Forrestor

Running time: 9mins 

As I previously wrote about Perrine Liévois’ towering experimental short Saturation, immersive cinema can something be a victim of its own success. If a Director deploys cinematic devices to make us feel what the protagonist is going through – such as jump-cuts to disorientate us, or whispering overlapping audio to unnerve us – it can help us more closely empathise with them, but it can also feel distinctly like we’re being jerked around.

To a certain extent, that is true of Validity, a head-spinning rampage through the crumbling psyche of a woman being swallowed alive by the churning, atomised metropolis of London. As Jess rapidly descends into a wide-eyed paranoia, we tumble headlong into her psychosis with her, as Writer/Director Meena Ayittey deploys a number of nauseating kinetic camera techniques, shuddering editing and recurring or morphing faces to leave us unable to determine where or who our protagonist even is.

There is something to be said for the technical skill Ayittey and her team have exhibited in pulling this effect off, and in so little time. It took Christopher Nolan two-and-a-half hours to both build a character and world we could relate to, before breaking those down for the subjective cliff-hanger ending of Inception, but in just eight-and-a-half minutes Ayittey delivers a protagonist we can relate to, before calling into question everything about her reality.

Jess (the earnest Lauren Douglin) spends the opening half of the film trying to obtain medical attention for her mother – who is suffering from a seemingly endless bout of coughing. Despite Mrs Obasanya (Colette Zacca) hacking up everything and the kitchen sink in his waiting room, the Doctor is confident a simple course of antibiotics will see her right – the only problem is the prescription needs to be picked up from Stratford, some way away. To spare her going out in the cold, Jess leaves her mother in the Doctor’s patient room, vowing to return with the drugs.

It is on this journey that things begin to deteriorate. A variety of polished camera trickery, shrieking, off-kilter audio, and flickering, stuttering editing, will leave viewers feeling as though they are in the grips of a pounding migraine, accompanying Jess’ sudden break with reality. Faces from the Doctors surgery begin to appear in the taxi, the tube, the street – and finally a hotel, which a bemused and skittish Jess stumbles into demanding to see her mother.

Douglin really comes into her own here, having spent the early segment of the film as such a solid and seemingly dependable figure. As her confusion turns to anger, a wild and unpredictable tone creeps into her voice, while her fixed, glowering eyes paint a worrying picture of someone wholly convinced of something impossible – and unwilling or unable to listen to reason regarding it.

While this transition is undeniably unnerving and technically well executed however, it has to be said that it feels a little rushed. The story charges through Jess’ arc in under 10 minutes, and does not deliver anything approaching a satisfactory conclusion – meaning its frenetic editing and camera work feel more tiresome than they would either in a short with a more defined path, or a longer film which allows for more time to explore Jess as a character before and after.

Returning to the case of Saturation, for example, spending 30 minutes being poked and prodded every time viewers feel like finally settling down is intensely annoying – but audiences will be able to look past that more easily, as it feels appropriate for a film explaining the waking nightmare that is living with insomnia. On the other end of the scale, Inception’s hefty run-time allows us space to engage with its characters and world, establishing a set of known-unknowns which we can use to interpret its ambiguous ending any way we like – meaning it can be subjective, but satisfactory.

Ayittey’s film does not give us closure on either level – and as a result, its sudden cut to credits feels rather like a damp squib. Did its creators run out of ideas, or drive the story into a cul-de-sac they did not know how to escape from? Did the production simply run out of time or money? It’s an unfortunate anti-climax, and rather than leaving viewers wanting more, or feeling contemplative about what they have seen, it may instead leave them feeling a little abandoned.

Make no mistake; there are some excellent raw materials on display here. Meena Ayittey has the technical skills and knack for picking a story that mean she will become a compelling storyteller in the future. In the case of Validity, however, a Spartan run-time and unwillingness to give us more space to explore Jess’ world-view – before and after it falls apart – mean this thriller will not entirely satisfy audiences appetites in the way that it could.

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