Reviews Short Narrative

The Floor is Lava (2020) – 3.5 stars

Director: Falun Ellie Koos

Writers: Falun Ellie Koos

Cast: Dreez Cox, Tom Viaene, Susanne Middelberg

Running time: 14mins

There are a lot of motifs which The Floor is Lava brings to mind: society, family, friendship, and love and hate. Chiefly, this curious, abstract attempt at social commentary appears to be an allegory on toxic relationships – with its co-dependent central duo seemingly trapping each other in a miserable social stasis, gradually turning them against one another.

Odd couple Victor (Tom Viaene) and Freddy (Dreez Cox) live in a trailer which is permanently elevated above the ground, dangling from a set of ropes. Freddy is handicapped and unable to move, while Freddy serves as his live-in carer. To pass the time the pair plays a unique version of the childhood game ‘The Floor is Lava’ – Victor leaps around on the furniture, while Freddy tries to poke him with a stick.

Initially, we do get to see beautiful aspects of human nature, as Victor sacrifices a life on the ground to care for Freddy, just as many a toxic relationship might once have been founded on true affection. Soon though, we see the pair transition into a bitter, spiteful cohabitation, with Freddy emotionally manipulating Victor – who is secretly spiking Freddy’s food with rat poison in an escape, without having to engage in any meaningful kind of confrontation.

Ultimately, the pair is keeping each other stranded in the container, whether that is by being physical unable to move, or by creating guilt and a sense of responsibility, or by refusing to face their difficult situation head on. All the while, the film’s audio serves as a constant reminder of this emotional entrapment, as the ropes atop the trailer physically tying them up groan in the wind.

It is not the only technical masterstroke writer/director Falun Ellie Koos manages to pull off – she also does something quite beautiful with her framing. The film consists mainly of one-person plans américains (a medium-long film shot of a group of characters, who are arranged so that all are visible to the camera) and close ups. Using these techniques, she manages to highlight the individuality, fragmentation and isolation of the two main protagonists and helps the viewer understand their mental state and emotion to a certain depth.

Koos also leverages the film’s lighting and colours to that same end. In a short film where outright exposition is limited, brightness and contrast can go a long way to illustrate the huge difference between the two worlds of the trailer and the ground. For example, while in the container, there is a warm, almost golden light, hugging the scene. The place feels cosy and familiar. On the other hand, when Victor looks outside and at the ground, the world is grey and rainy- it feels cold, unknown. It is easier to stay inside, where it is warm and intimate, right? It is therefore easy to empathise with his reluctance to leave, even if he knows his relationship with Freddy is making him unhappy.

When Victor finally does begin to wonder about leaving – having been invited down by a lady (Susanne Middelberg) – Freddy swiftly reminds him that without Victor, he will not survive. When the outside lady shows up again, Freddy does something truly unthinkable to prevent his captive companion from making his final exit. As Victor finally stands tall, looming over Freddy on the couch he spends his days on, the film draws to an ambiguous conclusion, and we are left to draw our own conclusions as to whether this was the moment the two finally separate – violently or otherwise – or whether Victor will simply resign himself to his fate once more, after thinking about what is left for him outside now.

The one issue is that the film is very light on its logistical details. While a metaphorical film can afford to exist in its own world, where not everything makes scientific sense, personally, I would have liked getting a bit of a background. How did their trailer end up in the sky? Why? It all seems too interesting not to play around with.

At the same time, a little more information on Freddy and Victor’s relationship might have helped us to make a more thorough reading of the story. Assuming the posters of naked women adorning the trailer indicate they are not lovers, are they brothers, friends, or just the abducted victims of some strange social experiment. Similarly, who is the lady, and why is she calling Freddy to join her to the world on the ground?

All in all, The Floor is Lava is a beautiful, if incomplete film. Every viewer needs to suspend their disbelief to an extent to enjoy a film, but it is difficult to ignore some of the things we are asked to take in good faith here. I also feel like I would have found it easier to identify the message I can relate to and bring it with me, once the viewing is over, with a little more detail in the storytelling. In any case though, I am definitely looking forwards to Koos’s next strange cinematic adventure!

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