When considering a short film such as director Nour Wazzi’s project Baby Mine, we are reminded that the cinematic potential of any project is not limited by its runtime or distribution range. This 20-minute narrative short possesses many of the same qualities found in a critically acclaimed feature-length crime drama. Wazzi exemplifies remarkable command, efficiency, and skill in her directorial efforts, also penning the screenplay co-written by Ellie Emptage and Shirine Best.
Inspired by true events, a young, sickly eight-year-old girl named Etti (Grace Taylor) is supposedly kidnapped by her estranged biological father, Soroush (Alexander Siddig). Etti’s mother, Sarah (Rachel Stirling), ridden with anxiety and hysteria, sets out with her neighbor, Mike (Alex Ferns), to track down Etti and Soroush. However, let it be known that Soroush is a Middle Eastern man, and Mike displays racist and xenophobic tendencies. All of this information is conveyed to the viewer proficiently and effectively within the first third of the abbreviated runtime. The narrative wastes no time with its communication of significant character and story details, clearly establishing the many volatile elements in the situation.
Still, how the film approaches its storytelling has a much heavier reliance on the visual components rather than dialogue. Conversations amongst the characters are brief and concise. Lines are not expendable or used as substanceless filler. If a word is spoken, it has a general importance in the context. The rest of the drama is developed through the camerawork and the editing. Director of Photography Rina Yang steals the show. The tense, discomforting atmosphere of the film builds with each slowly creeping movement of the camera. The gloomy, toned-down lighting style and color palette are akin to David Fincher’s signature visual expression. The choice of using a wide lens and aspect ratio further contributes to the especially cinematic look and feel, capturing broad, expansive frames, even in the claustrophobic settings. One portion of the story takes place in an abandoned, decrepit warehouse. The cramped, enclosed feeling of the environment is eerie and unsettling, but, the decision to incorporate such wide camera angles allows the viewer fascinating perspectives of the surroundings that would not have been possible with a narrower lens. Perhaps viewers will get a similar vibe to Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 film The Hateful Eight, a confined thriller that takes place in a lone cabin for much of the runtime, photographed by DP Robert Richardson with a massive Ultra Panavision 70 lens (2.76:1 aspect ratio). Obviously, the comparison between Baby Mine and The Hateful Eight goes no further than this, and, even this analogy might be a bit of a stretch, but keen-eyed viewers and cinephiles may very well draw that connection.
As for the editing courtesy of Vee Pinot, it provides the agitated, yet rhythmic flow to the on-screen action. The panning motion of the camera is timed perfectly with the expertly placed cuts. The sights and sounds of the environment blend into a beautiful composition of suspense and foreboding. For instance, in one sequence, as Sarah and Mike climb into a car, the slamming of the door cuts the audience directly to young Etti and Soroush in their hidden location. It is not only this technical side of the editing that is impressive. The way in which Pinot weaves together the nonlinear story structure is quite compelling. Brief shots and glimpses of ominous imagery, out of chronological order, are interspersed throughout the film, adding to the intrigue and mystery. Without getting into specifics, there is a bit of a twist at the conclusion of the narrative. While it is nothing as outlandish or as extreme as what one might find in an M. Night Shyamalan film, the inspiration and desire to quickly return for a re-watch is strong. And, that is precisely what I did. Given that this film was so short in length, it was worth my time to take an extra 20 minutes and reconsider the frame of reference through which I approached my initial viewing. On this repeat viewing, I was able to pick up on the various clues and hints that had been carefully laid by the filmmakers, and I also more fully appreciated some of the editing choices by Pinot.
Granted, audience members who are not prepared to mentally commit themselves to this deception of sorts may not find as much enjoyment in Baby Mine. This film requires intellectual participation and a vulnerability to being challenged. It is the furthest thing from a light, fun romp, and certain segments are intentionally misleading. However, those willing to accept this notion will be greatly rewarded. Director Nour Wazzi has yet to helm a feature film by herself, but if Baby Mine is any indication of her abilities, I would be thrilled to see her take on a larger project with a deeper well of resources at her disposal.
Available for viewing on Omeleto beginning June 19th, 2020.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
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