Reviews Short Narrative

The Odd (2020) – 4.5 stars

Director: Roberto Vivancos

Writer: Roberto Vivancos

Cast: Alison Garner

Running time: 2mins

As I’ve said before, many young directors use short films as a proving ground; a place where they demonstrate the techniques they have picked up during their education, in the hopes of attracting the eye of a producer who will snap them up for a feature. Unfortunately, this is deceptively simple, and a great many of those who attempt to produce such a cinematic CV actually end up producing something of a moving suicide note for their fledgling careers.

Thanks to their reduced running time, shorts can fall apart on the basis of one or two split-second decisions – and the shorter they are, the worse those mistakes become. While a longer film has the space required to recover from a couple of dodgy calls – building a larger contained universe to help keep our minds occupied, and distracted from more minor details – if a short movie drops the ball for even a second, it can greatly diminish its overall impact.

So far, this has meant that the shortest films featured on Indy Film Library have almost uniquely received negative reviews. The visual polish of films like Jonathan Foulston’s stylistic horror Trespass have been undermined by slap-dash editing, and the charming characterisation seen in animations like Francisco Catao’s Capibaribe have been let down by a lack of narrative drive, while poor casting decisions have left more throw-away efforts like Emilie Lowe’s Not Going Back badly exposed for their utter lack of ambition. The Odd is unlike any of these efforts – and serves as welcome evidence for any doubters that you actually can tell an affecting story in less than 10 minutes.

Writer and director Roberto Vivancos’ zero-budget vision delivers on all fronts – it is technically accomplished, flawlessly acted, and even manages to place its narrative within a broader social discourse – all in under two minutes. Vivancos should take great pride in what he has accomplished here, because it takes stringent planning and a tireless attention to detail to pull something like this off.

Alison Garner stars as ‘The Odd’; a woman whose body and mind seem to be at war with each other. Bathed in melancholic green light, the film’s only human presence lays motionless in a bathtub, her mind churning over the disconnect between her thoughts and feelings which have left her feeling “alien” to physical and mental conditions.

Illustrating this divide, Garner’s delivery is entirely at odds with the thoughts flashing across her mind – and she languidly muses about whether she has been possessed, or what would happen if she were to ‘give up’ in her struggle for survival. As well as helping to embody the themes of separation the film tackles in this way, Vivancos manages to wield this as a weapon of psychological horror, meaning the fears provoked by his film will continue to churn round the minds of viewers for some time after its meagre run-time has long passed.

To most people, The Odd’s plight will sound like a truly ghastly condition in the tradition of classic horror themes – like the protagonist bitten by a werewolf or a zombie; she has lost control of herself, and become trapped in a vessel which does not respond to her remaining humanity. The thing is that something altogether worse is actually taking place – she sounds tired, resigned to her fate – The Odd’s day-to-day suffering at the hands of her deteriorating mental health has become normalised to the point she reels off her symptoms as drearily as one might read a newspaper’s weather report.

We are left to wonder what on earth she might have gone through to reach this desensitised state of being, and to imagine ourselves in that emotional and physical stasis – most of us likely greatly overestimate how fortified our mental health is, or how little it might take to push us into such a condition – before suddenly being jolted out of our trances by the film’s abrupt and shocking ending. Scott Hazell’s excellent, ominous soundtrack helps further underwrite these feelings meanwhile.

Arguably the film’s most noticeable shortcoming is the script itself – it is not especially original, and people familiar with the genre of psychological horror will likely have heard similar sentiments expressed in other movies. However, considering Vivancos has delivered an engaging, abstract story in 117 seconds, it is forgivable that he does depend on the occasional previously established trope as a crutch to help us understand what is going on. With that being said, the film does do enough to avoid becoming cliché as well.

For example, the segment around The Odd testing her body’s responsiveness by telling her hand to “move” is one we have undoubtedly seen before. However, a sudden outburst of frustration checks our own cynicism a moment later, as she exasperatedly urges it “tick-fucking-tock!” Elsewhere, while for one horrible moment I really thought The Odd was going to recreate that shot of a young woman slowly submerging her head under the water of a bathtub, the set-up for that which induced a massive eye-roll from me actually served to subvert my expectations, and deliver a decent shock in the process.

It’s great to feel wrong-footed by a film like this, especially one which focuses on a protagonist who can no longer tell up from down either. It adds to the feelings of empathy we have already developed for The Odd – and fostering such a relationship between viewers and a character in so little time is no mean feat either.

I’ll be honest, I went into this film expecting a lot less than I got. I was expecting that Roberto Vivancos would be yet another director to underestimate the medium of short narrative, and that he would have rushed through the project for the sake of simply adding to his IMDb listing. Instead, his film delivers evocative visuals, a compelling central performance, and a worthy talking point around often underestimated mental health conditions. God it’s nice to be proven wrong once in a while.


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