Atlanta Film Festival 2021 Review: Dream Horse

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

Dream Horse is exactly what it advertises itself: an unabashed crowd pleaser that wears its heart on its sleeve, fully aware of its cheesiness and making no attempt to hide it. The result is a film that, while it may not win any awards, leaves you with a smile on your face and perhaps a few tears in your eyes as well. 

Based on the true story chronicled in the 2015 documentary Dark Horse, Dream Horse follows Jan Vokes (Toni Collette, good as ever), a grocery bagger and barkeep living in a poor mining town in Wales. Jan and her husband, Brain (Owen Teale, turning in a wonderful performance), have been stuck in a slump, going through the same motions every day. Upon overhearing Howard (Damian Lewis) in the pub reliving his glory days as part of a racehorse syndicate, Jan, who used to raise livestock and racing pigeons, begins to formulate an idea. 

This idea involves buying a broodmare, impregnating her, and breeding a racehorse, then roping members of the town together to form a syndicate to help pay for the horse’s expenses. After initial balking, Jan is joined by several other colorful town members, including Howard, each offering charm and a bit of broad humor. From there, they embark on the quest to raise their foal, dubbed Dream Alliance. 

The rest of Dream Horse is utterly, completely predictable, but is buoyed by such a solid cast and made with such enthusiasm that it’s hard to get annoyed. To its credit, director Euros Lyn (director of some excellent Doctor Who and Daredevil episodes, as well as the eerie Torchwood: Children of Earth) avoids leaning too hard into the more obvious beats, so that the emotion lands without being overwrought. It helps that Lyn has such a fine cast at his disposal, who sell their joy and distress with such genuineness that you want to clap along with them.

The film focuses more on the human aspect than the horse, probably a smart move seeing as horses can only emote so much. Jan and Brian feel the old spark again, but Howard and his wife, Angela (Joanna Page), have a falling out: last time Howard joined a racing syndicate, it went under and they almost lost the house. However, by the end of the film, this has all been swept under the rug and everyone gets a tidy, happy ending.

Despite horses’ general lack of facial expressions, the scenes with Dream still play well. (Though it was highly amusing to see the tricks they used to get Dream to act unruly. Oh, no, he’s not facing the right way to start the race! Well, maybe if the jockey let go of his mouth… But to a non-equestrian viewer, these would be nonissues.) Toni Collette even sells the emotional monologues to the horse as he nibbles at her (probably peppermint-lined) sweater pocket. (Most of my verbal interactions with my horses, on the other hand, consist of, “Stop that,” “Don’t bite me,” and, “Stop spooking, there’s nothing there.”) Editor Jamie Pearson skillfully ratchets up the tension during the races even as you know the ending, cutting between spectators and horses in just the right places to keep you from getting too bored. 

It’s nothing groundbreaking, but that doesn’t mean Dream Horse is bad. Sometimes a predictable feel-good movie can be just what you need, and by the time the film ends with the cast singing together along with their real-life counterparts, if you don’t feel tempted to join them, you might want to reconsider your life choices.

Dream Horse Trailer

Dream Horse played at the 2021 Atlanta Film FestivalComing to theaters May 21st.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Atlanta Film Festival 2021 Interview: Director Asad Farooqui Talks ‘Congratulations’

Interview by Anna Harrison

Summary: Amir (Asad Farooqui) is a struggling actor, meddling with lowly, wordless terrorist roles. More importantly, he struggles with his parents not taking his career choice seriously. Amidst the party chaos highlighted by politics, cricket, and community gossip, a revelation brings Amir a new challenge—just making it through the day.

Congratulations played at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival.

You can check Anna’s review of Congratulations here and see more of her work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Atlanta Film Festival 2021 Review: Landlocked

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

So often, stories about transgender individuals in media are riddled with gloom and doom, ending in tragedy; so often, too, these individuals are played by cisgender actors gunning for that Oscar glory. Landlocked eschews these conventions, opting out of overwrought drama and into something gentler and far more affecting. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean there is no drama at all—quite the opposite. Landlocked opens with Nick (Dustin Gooch) attending his mother’s funeral, and it’s clear he’s fraying as he grapples with the death of his mother and the numerous roadblocks hindering his restaurant opening. His personal life spins into even more disarray after he—with his wife Abby’s (Ashlee Heath) encouragement—phones his father, whom Nick has not seen or spoken to since age 13, to tell of his mother’s passing. 

His father, we learn, is a transgender woman named Briana, played by trans actor Delia Kropp, who also serves as executive producer. Director, writer, and producer Timothy Hall performs a tricky balancing act here: Briana’s transition clearly affected her relationship with Nick’s mother, and changes her relationship to Nick, but while the story does not shy away from Briana’s gender identity, it is not about her trans-ness. It’s a story of a parent coming to terms with the effect their absence had on their child, and of the child coming to terms with his abandonment, each having the scales fall from their eyes over the course of the film. Nick wants to hate Briana, and Briana wants to be involved in Nick’s life with no baggage; slowly, they make their way to a middle ground.

Gooch and Heath give excellent, natural performances. There are no Oscar-bait speeches here, but this turns out to be a good thing, making Nick and Briana’s relationship almost tangibly real. They discuss the beach, bridges, cooking, the church—interestingly, Briana has a very strong faith, a refreshing change of pace from many stories where the church and the LGBTQ community are portrayed as being at odds. There are no scenes of passersby hurling slurs, or pastors preaching about going to hell. Briana’s life is not the tragedy that some would play it as; she has a stable life with strong community ties, and has come to terms with her identity long ago. This makes her a much more compelling character: instead of a walking tragedy, she is a living, breathing person. (Unfortunately, the car ride where Nick and Briana talk about their faith is marred somewhat by poor sound design, the sound of the car alternatingly muffled or overly loud and the actors’ voices too quiet, though to be fair that could have been a computer issue.) 

Landlocked is a pleasant film, deftly avoiding the standard tropes and traps that populate this kind of storyline. It’s not perfect, most noticeably with regards to the audio, and Hall also sidelines Abby, using her primarily as a mouthpiece to get Nick to answer questions we audience members might be wondering. But, Landlocked remains fully worth the watch, offering a needed sense of optimism and demonstrating the importance of LGBTQ stories that don’t focus on the tragedy, only the humanity.

Landlocked is currently playing at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival until May 2. You can buy a ticket to a virtual screening here.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Atlanta Film Festival 2021 Review: Rideshare

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Rideshare, written and directed by Charlene Fisk, takes an everyday situation—getting into a rideshare after a night out—and injects an unsettling layer of claustrophobia. Gina (Brittany Wilkerson) is tired, and not really in the mood to talk to driver Mark (Josh Daugherty), but she makes small talk anyway. Already Gina is stuck in a hellish scenario, forced to chitchat with just one other person while wanting nothing more than to leave. We’ve all been there.

But we have not all been in an experience as gendered as this one. The minute Gina climbs into the car with a male driver, the balance of power shifts, and we become more and more aware of this as the film continues. Mark asks Gina questions, which she responds to; he fails to pick up on the fact that Gina would like to be quiet and continues to talk, his questions getting more and more personal. Fisk takes care through most of the film to never let Mark drift into caricature, instead giving him enough plausible deniability to where he could reasonably say he meant Gina no ill will and was just making conversation, a defense that seems to come up very often in these types of scenarios and one that immediately deflects blame on the woman for being too sensitive or, dare I say, hysterical.

It feels a bit odd to give Rideshare a numerical score, in large part because some of my quibbles came from me thinking, Well, I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if someone said this to me (at least towards the beginning) therefore the script has flaws, but I fully recognize that many other people—women—might have a different opinion. Are they being overly sensitive? Am I being overly apathetic? But, to its credit, Rideshare doesn’t try to discuss if Gina’s fears are unfounded. It only says: here is a woman feeling threatened in a one-on-one situation with a man, her experience is very much shaped by her gender, and it doesn’t really matter that much if you think she’s overreacting because her fear is very real—and, of course, as the film goes on, doubts about Gina overreacting get smaller and smaller. 

Fisk does an excellent job at keeping the feeling of claustrophobia throughout the film, helped by the fact that most of it is confined to a single car. For much of the film, we only see Mark from the back and the side, looking at him through Gina’s eyes, a clever and effective choice that keeps him unknowable and menacing. It never becomes too outlandish, except possibly at the end, but I am a sucker for ambiguous endings and easily squashed any incredulity I might have felt. Fisk never beats you over the head with the film’s messages, but they ring loud and clear nonetheless, bolstered by the subtler moments, and I would certainly share a ride with Rideshare. (I’m sorry I couldn’t think of a better pun.)

Rideshare is currently playing at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival until May 2. Click here to buy a ticket to its virtual screening.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Atlanta Film Festival 2021 Review: Limbo

Written by Anna Harrison

85/100

Limbo is the first film I have seen in theaters in over a year, and the euphoric rush I felt as I walked in and inhaled the smell of popcorn would carry over as I watched the film—though perhaps “euphoric” isn’t quite the word. Limbo follows Syrian refugee Omar (Amir El-Masry), stuck on an isolated Scottish island while his asylum request is processed, familial contact relegated to limited calls in a frigid phone booth (remember those?). It doesn’t quite sound uplifting, and indeed the film gets very dark, but with its deadpan humor and superb performances, Limbo remains full of charm and heart.

The film takes its time to get going, cinematographer Nick Cooke letting us sit in still wide shots that showcase the harsh landscape, the island’s population mere specks against the wild backdrop. At times, Limbo goes a little too slowly through its purgatory, but looks so desolately gorgeous that you don’t mind all that much. The lingering shots, only occasionally interrupted by a pan or tilt, add a hefty dose of charm or humor when needed, or force us to remain is discomfort or despair in the film’s darker moments. 

While the island on which he has been stranded is isolated, Omar himself lives with three roommates: the upbeat Farhad (Vikash Bhai), stealer of chickens and lover of Freddie Mercury, and apparent brothers Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) and Abedi (Kwabena Ansah), the former with dreams of becoming a soccer star for Chelsea and the latter with a more realistic take on life. The title of the film proves apt as we watch Omar trudge around this inhospitable island. He goes to cultural awareness classes taught by Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Boris (Kenneth Collard), who display a lack of awareness themselves, teaching the refugees the past tense by saying phrases like, “I used to ride my elephant to work” or “I used to have a home before coalition forces blew it up.” (As an example of their own, one of the other refugees offers up, “I used to be happy until I came here.”)

Omar, almost always clad in a bright blue jacket, holds on desperately to the one piece of his old life he has left: his grandfather’s oud, a guitar-like instrument he carries around in a case everywhere he goes. Yet he finds himself unable to play, despite his father’s constant refrain—“A musician who does not play his instrument is dead”—ringing in his ears. Omar himself seems drained of life, dragging his untouched oud, mournfully staring at the ignorant locals who ask him not to “blow up shite or rape anyone” before offering him a ride to town. 

Writer and director Ben Sharrock carefully balances melancholy with charm here, playing off Omar’s stoicism against roommate Farhad’s relentless cheer as well as the absurdity and ignorance of the locals. El-Masry delivers a performance that is by equal measures funny and heartbreaking even as Omar’s face remains passive for much of the film; the moment when Omar finally begins to react is all the more effective when contrasted with his earlier stoicism. Bhai’s Farhad provides a joyful foil, and while Wasef and Abedi share less screentime than their other roommates, Orebiyi and Ansah more than make up for it with a pair of wrenching performances.

Limbo seems like an impossible film, especially when many refugee stories today are treated by Hollywood with a somberness and self-seriousness better befitting a funeral than something involving living, breathing people. Yet Sharrock easily breathes a new life to this story, bolstered by El-Masry and his co-stars (yes, I have repeatedly mentioned how good El-Masry is; yes, he is that good), finding a deeper empathy in Limbo by focusing on the small scale and the irrefutably human, refusing to give us the standard shlock and making a film all the better for it.

Limbo trailer

Limbo played at the Atlanta Film Festival and releases theatrically on April 30.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Atlanta Film Festival 2021 Review: Congratulations

Written by Anna Harrison

80/100

Asad Farooqui’s smart and deftly funny short Congratulations (originally called Mabrook, an Arabic word meaning largely the same thing) opens with Amir, played by Farooqui himself, filming a self-tape for a movie, hoping to land the lauded role of… Terrorist Number Two. Amir is a struggling actor, trying to make it in a world where Muslim performers are delegated to suicide bombers and hijackers; on top of this, Amir still lives at home with his badgering but well-meaning parents (Rajiv Vora and Rabinder Campbell) who like to keep interrupting his audition tapes.

The family is getting ready for Eid, the celebratory breaking of the Ramadan fast, and are joined by Amir’s uncle Abbas (Navin Gurnaney) and his family, including nephew Dr. Jameel (Manahar Kumar), who respectfully looks down upon Amir’s soon-to-be MFA, and Jameel’s fiancée (and cousin), Maaria (Nasim). 

Farooqui milks the awkward family dynamics for all their worth, creating an instantly familiar feeling for anyone who has ever had any sort of family gathering. Here, the lines in the sand are drawn not between generations, as often happens, but between geographic locations: Abbas and Jameel, who have both lived in Pakistan, versus Amir, who has not. Abbas and Jameel both praise former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and insult Hindus, and Amir’s criticisms fall on deaf ears, his comments weightless because he has not lived in Pakistan himself. (Farooqui milks humor out of these conflicts, too, not only through the script but through the shot setups and staging, so we squirm along with Amir and his father as Jameel and Abbas judge us from above.)

Farooqui is careful never to let any of his characters drift into caricature, unlike whoever wrote Terrorist Number Two: Jameel and Abbas are not the hyperconservative, misogynistic monsters that many Western movies would have us believe. Their flaws come out in smaller ways—a comment here, a snide glance there. They are the family members whom you encounter every Thanksgiving with outdated and problematic beliefs, not cartoonish cronies. Nor is Amir hyper-Westernized; he prays with his family in traditional clothing, embracing his faith while simultaneously advocating more liberal ideas. 

Therein lies Congratulations’ biggest success: it juxtaposes the players in Amir’s real life—educated, civil (by and large)—and Amir himself with those he has been delegated to play in the movies—unnamed, fanatical. And, as Congratulations shows, the former proves far more interesting and watchable than the latter. We watch Amir interact with his family, watch conflicts and personalities that mirror everyone else’s, and then see the MFA hopeful trudge back upstairs to resignedly refilm his audition for Terrorist Number Two, a role that strips him of all the humanity we have just witnessed.

It’s funny, but it’s a punch to the gut, too.

Congratulations is currently playing at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival until May 2. Click here to buy a ticket to its virtual screening.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

SXSW 2021 Review: Inbetween Girl

Written by Anna Harrison

80/100

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen. Good coming of age stories are far rarer, but Inbetween Girl adds a very solid addition to their ranks, standing out among its peers by deftly handling conversations of sex and race as seen through the lens of a mixed race teenage girl. Teenagedom is such a tricky time both to navigate in real life and to portray on screen—too often filmmakers go overboard, making the teenagers into walking bags of hormones and relying on overused tropes to create eye roll worthy caricatures. Inbetween Girl writer and director Mei Makino successfully avoids these pitfalls, crafting instead an immensely relatable film with a lot of heart that feels like an authentic portrait of high school drama.

The film follows Angie Chen (Emma Galbraith), an art-minded teen who, amidst her parents’ messy divorce, finds herself drawn more and more to Liam (William Magnuson), who drives her home every day from soccer practice, despite the fact that Liam has a girlfriend, Sheryl (Emily Garrett). Well, as it turns out, Liam is also becoming more and more drawn towards Angie, and their attraction grows until Liam shows up outside Angie’s window one night, and, well, you can guess. (The way Liam uses a single finger to shut Angie’s computer during this scene is such a classic cocky high school/college boy move. My God. Does no man have any creativity these days?)

Angie, despite feeling guilt for her continual hookups with Liam, cannot bring herself to end things because she does truly have feelings for him, but most importantly, because Liam is the one thing in her life not spinning out of her control. Post-divorce, her white mother (Liz Waters, who looks suspiciously young to have birthed a teenager) has become more of a workaholic than usual, leaving Angie to fend for herself most nights. Angie’s Chinese father (KaiChow Lau) immediately begins dating Min (ShanShan Jin), and happily converses in Mandarin with both Min and her daughter, Fang (Thanh Phuong Bui), leaving Angie—who never learned the language—feeling usurped and uncertain of her racial identity. So, she sticks with Liam. Of course, this can’t last, and when Angie and Sheryl bond over an English project, things come to a head. 

I have very few quarrels with Inbetween Girl. Most of the resolutions to Angie’s story feel appropriately messy, though some seem a little too neat; however, through the whole way, we are anchored by Emma Galbraith’s wonderful performance. She smoothly navigates all of Angie’s conflicting emotions, giving us a grounded, natural performance that never falls prey to any of the teen movie trope traps (say that five times fast). The rest of the cast give almost uniformly solid performances—in particular Magnuson, Garrett, and Lau—and Makino’s script gives them all a chance to shine.

Makino manages to make a very specific storyline about a biracial teenage girl discovering her sexuality in Galveston, Texas have resonance across all walks of life while still maintaining Angie’s unique identity on its own, pulling off a tricky balancing act with ease and charm. For a feature debut, this is no small feat, and if this is only the beginning for both Galbraith and Makino, I can’t wait to see where they go next.

Inbetween Girl played at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

SXSW 2021 Review: Alien On Stage

Written by Anna Harrison

100/100

Of late, my faith in humanity has worn rather thin—for obvious reasons, I should think. Then, something like Alien On Stage comes along and renews my hope in the human race. No, I’m not exaggerating. It was the biggest boost of serotonin I have ever received.

Alien On Stage follows the adventures of several bus drivers in Dorset, England, as they mount an amateur theatrical production of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Yes, you read that correctly. The iconic horror movie Alien, with its cramped set, tense sense of dread, and strong sexual imagery transported to a community theater. The transition goes about as well as one might think—which is to say, poorly.

Through some twists of fate, Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey, the producers and directors of Alien On Stage, saw this bizarre flop of a production. Luckily for us viewers, they were so charmed by the endeavor that they managed to book the show in the Leicester Square Theatre for one day, whisking the employees of the Wilts and Dorset Bus Company from a glorified town hall to the West End. Alien On Stage chronicles this journey, and within the first five minutes cemented itself as one of the most contagiously joyful films I have ever seen, even though some of its growing pains (it is Kummer and Harvey’s first film) were obvious.

The whole situation sounds absurd, like something out of a fairy tale, but to call it one would be a disservice to the hours and hours of work the bus employees put into this production. With a shoestring budget, they managed to craft a wearable Xenomorph suit whose tail and jaw could be moved and a chest-burster operated by fishing lines. I found myself squealing with delight over the ingenious solutions the cast and crew came up with despite spending most of their time driving buses and by and large having little or no theater experience. Of course the production couldn’t match the movie, but it was so painstakingly crafted and made with such love and care that it didn’t matter we could tell that Ash’s disembodied head was papier-mâché, or that the vents through which Captain Dallas crawls were just tables laid on their sides.

The man, the myth, the legend Pete Lawford with his amazing props and creatures

Importantly, Alien On Stage features no tension or infighting between the cast and crew of the show, focusing on the support and love given to everyone involved rather than mining the situation for drama to heighten the stakes. Even the director, David, a self-described military man, remains nothing but positive—though he drinks copiously on opening night to calm his nerves. It is hard to overstate just how damn happy I felt watching this, and how invested I became in this show’s cast, crew, and success. They had the Xenomorph prowl through the audience! Absolute geniuses!

Alien On Stage serves as a jubilant testament to the power of art, showing that even the unlikeliest of people, when given the chance, can display brilliant creativity and talent. At its best, art unites people, and Alien On Stage represents the beating heart of the artistic endeavor. I rooted for these people across the Atlantic Ocean; I understood when Jacqui, who played Ash, talked about the relief she feels playing someone else on stage because I saw myself in that feeling; I rooted for writer Luc and his screenwriting dreams even in the face of his naysayers. When the crowd of Leicester Square Theater stood up to give Alien a standing ovation as David held back tears, I was sorely tempted to stand up and join them. 

Alien On Stage Trailer

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

SXSW 2021 Review: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break wins the award for best movie title I’ve encountered this year. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by its bizarre name, despite solid efforts from its cast and a promisingly bonkers plotline.

The film follows the titular Paul Dood (Tom Meeten), a charity shop worker who still lives with his mom (June Watson) and is a bit of a loser. However, he has a big dream: he wants to make it big on the Trend Ladder Talent Show, an America’s Got Talent-type show—or Britain’s Got Talent, in this case. Paul constantly livestreams on Trend Ladder, a clear Instagram ripoff but one with a ladder you can climb up in real time until you become the number one trending video. Paul, suffice to say, does not attract that many Trend Ladder hits.

After a series of misfortunes, Paul arrives late to his audition, and even after appealing to Trend Ladder Talent Show host and mega celebrity Jack Tapp (Kevin Bishop) to get a chance, he bombs the audition. Paul’s day only gets worse from there, and so he begins plotting his revenge on those who made him miss his audition.

It’s a fun, kooky premise, but the film can never quite figure out what it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s a ridiculous parody of slasher films; other times, it tries to be a serious meditation on grief, or a critique of social media. However, director Nick Gillespie, try as he might, never succeeds in getting these elements to gel together, and the result is a film that ping pongs wildly between tones, never staying with one idea long enough to have much of an impact. 

Paul, though played well by Meeten, suffers the most from the film’s indecision: one moment he seems to be ready to accept his losses, but the next he returns to his attempted killing spree, spurred on by his rising Trend Ladder fame that he seemed to have forgotten about in the previous scene. The inability of the film to commit to its absurd premise also leaves certain moments, like a hostage crisis towards the end of the film, caught in between two opposite urges: on the one hand, the scenario is deliberately unbelievable, but on the other, Gillespie tries to play it too straight, and these incompatible impulses render the scene impotent.

Still, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break manages to be juuuust engaging enough to keep you watching. There were moments where I saw the glimmers of a much stronger movie lurking beneath the surface, but the movie shied away before it could change from duckling to swan. It’s a frustrating experience more than anything: the elements are all there for this movie to succeed, but Paul Dood simply lacks the bite he needs to make this movie worthy of climbing the Trend Ladder.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Slamdance 2021 Review: No Trace (Nulle Trace)

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

As I started No Trace, watching the black-and-white train tracks move by in a blur and hearing the discordant music, I braced myself for a jarring and unsettling experience like Persona, or some other esoteric, unreadable film. I still got an esoteric and unreadable film, but one that was soft and slow, that unfurled at its own leisurely pace. Director Simon Lavoie clearly draws from auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and others, and so in some ways No Trace feels familiar, but only in the sense that it resembles other films who make it a point to feel unfamiliar; compared with most mainstream or even semi-mainstream films, it feels alien.

No Trace follows two women, N (Monique Gosselin) and Awa (Nathalie Doummar), as N attempts to smuggle Awa and her child across an unnamed border in a dystopic future, but we are left only to guess at how this grim world came to be. N succeeds in getting Awa and the child to Awa’s husband, but on her way back, some thieves steal her handcar and force N to walk on foot. During N’s journey back, she once again encounters Awa, unconscious and injured and without husband or child. N helps nurse Awa back to health, and the two tentatively develop a strange, strenuous relationship that tests the both of them.

Gosselin and Doummar are perfectly cast; Gosselin as the hardened, no-nonsense atheist, and Doummar as the delicate-looking, wide-eyed Muslim. There is hardly a shot without Gosselin in the entire film, and director Simon Lavoie relies on her to carry long stretches without any dialogue. In fact, most of the film remains void of any speaking, relying instead on precise and careful sound design to craft a sense of the world around the women. When the characters do speak, they do so brusquely, with the exception of N and Awa’s brief discussion on religion.  

“You’re not a believer?” Awa asks. “I’m not that desperate yet,” N replies. In the end, both of their beliefs will be tested, and the audience can arrive at their own conclusions.

The cinematography is the most striking thing in No Trace: while filmed largely on train tracks or by a nondescript shed in a nondescript forest, Lavoie employs beautiful and clever shots, making even the most boring frame a work of art. (He also includes perhaps the most horrifying image I have ever seen on screen, which was not pleasant, but he does so without overreliance on gore or a huge shock factor.)

No Trace will no doubt leave many viewers frustrated. It changes aspect ratios seemingly on a whim, leaves many things ambiguous, and the slow pace can be a turn off in spots. The film has no clear narrative thrust, only vague brushstrokes, and so has no strong plot to propel itself forward. While Lavoie clearly intends this to happen, I still found my mind wandering in several places—though never too far. No Trace requires no small amount of patience and willingness to accept ambiguity, making your own meaning out of the images on screen, but once you find the patience to sit and soak in the beautiful shots and admire the near-silent performances, it proves to be a rewarding experience.

No Trace Trailer

You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.