Reviews Short Narrative

Space Ranger (2019) – 2.5 stars

Director: Sarah Evans

Writer: Sarah Evans

Cast: Ryan Foreman, Evelyn Halbach

Running time: 13mins

Attention to detail and patience are two terms I can’t say that I am fond of (mainly because I had to remove them from my skill set) yet they are key to providing feedback on Space Ranger. This short from first-time filmmaker Sarah Evans is so deep, and has been packed with so many wonderful messages – but, as in the story itself, these treasures are sometimes hard to find amid many weaknesses. So, let’s start digging.

First, I should say I respect Evans, who produced this film as a student, for having the courage to bring up topics that are sensitive and heavy. Topics like grief, gun violence, environmental crisis can be a daunting prospect for young filmmakers, and they should be celebrated for trying to tackle them… But I do also believe that less is more. An important lesson for all young artists to understand, is that we do not need to say everything we want to say in just one piece. Particularly in a short, focusing on one aspect clearly instead of many aspects hurriedly will produce more satisfying results. Manifest your purpose and work your way through it.

In this case, Evans made this film wanting to emphasise the importance of communication as a tool for positive mental health. Our main character is withdrawn and heavily affected by loss, as well as gun violence in schools. But did that stick with me? Absolutely not. It can’t stand on its own when we see so little of that world. If I see a teenager and a kid in a landfill for 95% of the film (if not more), going through what is disguised as endless garbage, I can’t help but only link the story to environmental causes. There was not a second where I wondered if Space Ranger had anything to do with mental health and communication. All I could think of is that we got a stereotypically frustrated teenager and innocent child teaming up for a greater cause.

Brody (Ryan Foreman) spends his free time scouring a landfill, looking for something of value to him. During this journey, he meets little Delilah (Evelyn Halbach), a cheerful and overly friendly girl. It becomes apparent early on that Brody is struggling to maintain his balances in life. School is not going well and Delilah is getting on his nerves.

Delilah shares that the land field is more peaceful than her home – that is when Brody softens and opens up to her. Finally, we discover Brody is so engrossed in this tip because he is actually looking for his late mom’s brown journal; an artefact which apparently holds the key to saving the Earth. Delilah joins his efforts and the pair soon finds the most valuable item in the world.

The film’s strongest feature is the underlying contrast between the two main characters. It is rather beautiful: Delilah comes from a problematic home and she is neglected, while Brody lost his loving mother. They join forces to find the journal that contains the key to humanity’s salvation, prioritising it above all of their differences. 

That doesn’t sound bad, does it? Well, as mentioned, the other narrative themes tend to distract from that central point. In my opinion, in that regard, Evans has left a little too much space for misinterpretation.

That is not to say there is no room for environmental discussion here. If you are living in 2021 and think that there is nothing wrong with the world, you are in the wrong time and space continuum. While our society still hasn’t reached the grim saturation point of this narrative yet, we are at the end of the beginning of an awareness period, where we are having all conversations that need to be had (climate change, cultural and racial matters and the list goes on). Films like this can help reiterate such messages and reach more audiences. They just need to strike the right balance between their emotional and ecological content.

Moving away from the message the story wants to communicate, there are other points which slightly undermine Evans’ intent, relating to the need for attention to detail, which I mentioned earlier. For example: Brody wears single-use plastic gloves while he looks through a pile of trash, because after all, this is potentially hazardous waste. At some point, though, he sits down, tired, and hides his face in his hands… while still wearing the gloves.

This might be cause for alarm, had it not been obvious that the landfill was created for the purposes of this film, as it mainly consists of waste-paper. In this sense, the glove-faux-pas ends up further emphasising the unconvincing nature of the landfill. This is a problem for the story, as it does not seem like it should take Brody days to find the journal he was looking for in this place.

Then, on a technical basis, there are significant changes in sound quality throughout the same scene. I am assuming that there was a microphone attached to the camera, hence the actor closer to it sounds louder than the one in the background. That is easy to be resolved with a voice over and a little trickery in the editing suite – something Evans will hopefully have learnt for future projects, having left the final cut like this.

Besides the need for attention, I also mentioned patience earlier. In the end, I think that is the element which could have really elevated this film, if it were applied. When we are younger and we have an exciting story to tell, we tend to talk fast and skip directly to the good part? Watching Space Ranger is very much in that spirit; it feels like a younger (and or impatient) artist rushing to tell me several stories all at once. Brody and Delilah change emotions within a heartbeat, they have epiphanies within a few seconds, and the whole narrative changes from 0 to 10 back to 5 and back up to 8.

On my first watch, rather than being swept along with them, I wanted to ask our characters to stop and take a breath. But thinking back, it was not the pace they were talking at. No. Both protagonists were really good in their performances, and in fact deserve a lot of credit for their delivery! The reason Space Ranger really felt so rushed was its editing. Spending a bit more time in editing, cutting scenes and stitching them together with slower shots or establishing images could have helped build suspense more gradually, and give the story time to breath.

As it is, the way Space Ranger is delivered does not leave room for the audience to process and ask all of those questions that make them do the work: “What is Brody looking for?” “Why is he upset?” “Why is there a little girl playing in a landfill?” “Why is that journal important?” We are given it on a plate, in a final cut that feels sloppy because of this hasty approach.

In my younger days, I remember wanting to include everything I wanted to share with the public in one story. In the end, I was always overwhelmed and dissatisfied with my end-product. As I am getting older, my vision as a creative individual has become way clearer, and I have very recently started enjoying the process of creating, pausing to take breaks and return back to my project clear minded. That is a piece of advice that I hope Evans (and any other young filmmaker) takes along with them. Not only will she then have the space to perfect her work but she will also have several projects lined up, waiting for her to walk her way through her future.

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