Reviews Short Narrative

The Fairy Dance (2022) – 1 star

Director: Martin Scott Laird

Writer: Martin Scott Laird

Running time: 7mins

Animation has the potential to take us places we had never dared imagine previously. They aren’t always places we’d actually want to go, though. In the case of a film which has the backing of a local council, hoping to attract visitors to one of the UK’s most far-flung communities, that might not be the response The Fairy Dance was supposed to elicit.

Writer-director-animator-musician Martin Scott Laird gives thanks to Creative Scotland and Orkney Islands Council at the end of this chilling, seven-minute acid trip. The jury is out as to whether they are similarly thankful.

The story follows a young violinist through his encounter with a mysterious individual, leering at him through the streets of his town in the Northern Isles. An increasingly unnerving opening vignette sees our young protagonist leave the safety of his home to head for fiddle practice – passing a haggard, balding man slumped in an alleyway.

As the journey continues, this second individual strikes an increasingly uncomfortable resemblance to a very different kind of ‘fiddler’. Upon noticing the passing musician, he springs to life, splaying his legs either side of a nearby wall, and demonstrably sniffing in the direction of the unsuspecting protagonist: a hound devouring the irresistible scent on his quarry.

Laird inexplicably doubles down on this unnerving characterisation, by having the man begin to stalk the young musician through the streets – cutting to a first-person, predator’s-eye-view of the pursuit, complete with rasping, heavy breathing. Staying just out of view, the individual peers into the room where the musician is having his lessons – only for the teacher to notice, and approvingly wink at him, as if to say “Got another one for you here…”

The whole story takes place without dialogue, so the only subtext present comes from the modern-day sensibilities we bring into the film; and with moments like this, that is especially problematic. While the folk story that people in Orkney might well know could suggest why this music teacher is so happy to serve up his student to a malevolent fairy – that’s what the director’s statement says the individual lurking outside is supposed to be – viewers from further afield will likely assume the very worst about the scenario.

After the young musician leaves his lesson, the fairy finally makes his presence known; offering him a gold coin if he will come with him to his home – a hole in the ground, outside of town. Again, sirens sound, as the audience collectively recalls the stranger danger lessons of their childhood.

The following scene sees the musician fiddle for the old man throughout the night – the man becoming increasingly bestial in form as the music stokes some hidden mania inside him. The music begins to warp, with some admittedly clever digital tinkering giving us an indication that time and space are being realigned for our protagonist, while the moon, stars, sun and elements rapidly cycle past the earthen dwelling.

The young man loses consciousness, having fiddled for who knows how long. Regaining consciousness, he discovers that the gold coin he received has cost him dear – with the ‘one night’ having actually lasted several decades. Marooned in a world hostile to his now antiquated sensibilities (illustrated by a couple of smart pieces of design; such as toying with the way car-headlights have changed in the last half-century – the round, friendly beacons giving way to now resemble the narrowed eyes of a contemptuous face), our lead character takes a mournful stroll along the beach.

Unfortunately, Laird’s canny design touches do not extend to the musician, however – whose trousers in the sunset are painted the same colour as his flesh. As the screen fades to black on our apparently pantless protagonist, this image more than any before it seems to encapsulate the flaws of the project. The Fairy Dance’s haphazard attempts to bring an old cautionary tale to life in the modern world are sadly rather embarrassing, with some conspicuous design decisions leaving its tonally suspect central story without any fig-leaf to hide behind.

Martin Scott Laird will certainly have elicited a few gasps of disbelief with this interpretation of an old legend from the Orkney Islands, but probably not in the way he had intended. Questionable choices in terms of the film’s tone mean it might be difficult to screen for younger audiences, while older viewers will struggle to look past its lacklustre animation and nuts-and-bolts character design, even if they can look past the suspect characterisation of the ‘fairy’ himself. In future, working collaboratively instead of a one-man-show might be the way to go; if only to involve a second pair of eyes to flag up content that could lead to some uncomfortable questions upon release.

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