Reviews Short Narrative

Angel Fleet (2023) – 1.5 stars

Director: Tristan Loraine

Writer: Tristan Loraine

Cast: Darcy Jacobs, Millie Lewis, Guy Westgate, Kelly MacKay, Shaun Morton

Running time: 25mins

With each examination, the black box from Angel Fleet’s crash-landing becomes more baffling. The film courteously telegraphs its ‘twist’ ahead to all but the least perceptive viewers – but the ending we are primed to expect is a long, long way from the unintentional gag-real delivered in its disastrous final third.

The film follows Molly, a young woman struggling to process a family tragedy. Her father was killed in a crash while piloting an aircraft several years ago – and she has apparently been unable to move beyond the loss, although besides occasionally gazing up to the heavens while thinking of him, we don’t really see anything that would suggest this is a problem. That makes the overbearing concern of her family, therapist and school seem more than a little irritating – immediately prying whenever she so much as glances upwards, and insisting she should be reminded that air disaster was a very long time ago now.

By the end of the film’s second act, this feels as though everyone in Molly’s life might actually be gaslighting her. On top of desperately jumping on any moment she shows any – completely reasonable – sign of healthily reminiscing of her deceased family figure and suggesting that is something to worry about, they have ensured every waking moment of her life is now filled with talk of destroyed aircraft and those lost in the wreckage. As well as her mother and grandmother putting on an annual charity gig to raise funds for dead pilots – at which a Glenn Miller orchestra performs – her school is bombarding her with facts about the Battle of Britain, and carting her about old airfields where people were killed in the Second World War.

All of this means that Darcy Jacobs not only puts in the film’s best performance as Molly (she is a gifted performer who can say more with her face than even the over-explanatory dialogue Tristan Lorraine’s script gives her: her eyes well with tears one moment; stare intensely for thousands of miles while trapped in thought the next; then roll to the heavens in frustration at the continuous babying of her teacher, mother or shrink) – at times she appears to be the only human presence on screen. Everyone else feels like a pod person, bent on convincing her that any reasonable response she is having to a terrible moment of trauma is actually a symptom of her losing her mind.

In her darkest moments, Molly is accompanied by her sister, Romina (Millie Lewis – the only other actor who comes away with any credit here). Oddly enough, though, nobody seems to pay her much attention at all. Considering she would have gone through the same thing as her sister, this becomes more and more conspicuous, the more we see of the family – and the more we see of the family, the less the impending twist works.

It needn’t have been this way. When Molly is playing a mournful tune on the family piano, for example, her sister silently approaches her – seen only in the reflection of the instrument’s gorgeous sheen. When Romina places her hand on Molly’s shoulder, the tune immediately changes to something more uplifting. It is a beautiful visual, and one of the many moments in which Anya Krasnikova’s cinematography really shines – and if this kind of little detail were the only medium through which we were to be gradually fed the film’s conclusion, then it might would have been a more haunting, and sad affair.

As the film lurches toward its conclusion, the trip to the former airfield sees her momentarily communicate with a Polish airman, dressed in an outdated uniform. When she recounts the experience to her sister, Lorraine’s needlessly expository scripting makes an unwelcome return, and Romina immediately suggests “maybe you have a gift” – before offering to attend the airfield with her to see if there is more to the story than meets the eye. Meanwhile, Molly’s mother heads to the cemetery to lay fresh flowers on her husband’s grave.

Molly initially becomes convinced she can see an old B-52 soaring through the skies above the field, calling to her sister to come and see. The camera hangs on Molly’s face, though, and her eyes gradually fill with tears when no answer comes. Flashback footage interjects with her lingering gaze, to confirm what we have known for some time – her father was not the only one who was killed in the crash.

If the film only took this route to serve up the ending, it might have worked, or at least left us feeling less patronised than the further haphazard revelation Lorraine serves up. Because it is now that he decides to also cut to the grave – and to make sure we see that there are two people buried there, with the same date of death. So little effort has been made to properly emboss the tombstone with the relevant details that the message simply reads RIP, while neither person whose remains have been interred there has been given a date of birth. It is an embarrassing and utterly avoidable mistake – because we didn’t need to see any of it.

Instead of this clumsy conclusion, we could have had a final shot where Molly and her mother reconcile instead, finally acknowledging the full horrors of what happened to their family – though that would still do nothing for the fact that we have seen so much of the mother only mourning and honouring the memory of her husband, and nothing for anyone else. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because that isn’t even the most clumsy that the handling of this apparent emotional crescendo gets.

As Molly stands teary eyed in the field to sad music, the screen fades to black, and displays a message “in memory of all the lost aviators”. You might think that this kind of conclusion would be given some breathing space, to let the emotional sting of its final ‘revelation’ hit home – but instead we’re immediately treated to the Glenn Miller Band jauntily playing through American Patrol; upbeat, inoffensive, hellish elevator music, that utterly undercuts any of the clout the story had delivered. It is a stunning tonal dissonance which prompted a bout of involuntary laughter in my own case – and that is the very last thing that should be happening in a story like this.

Angel Fleet has some excellent cinematography, polished flight footage, and a couple of good performances buried in there somewhere. But its ham-fisted scripting, patronising tone and unintentionally hilarious final edit will leave viewers struggling to relate to it. It is hard to see why, in its current state, this was ever cleared for take-off.

Leave a Reply