There’s something truly arresting about grief. It impacts us all differently: some a little bit at a time, while others feel upended by a sledgehammer. There’s no real right or wrong way to grieve unless you lose yourself entirely to it. The weird part is that you may not even be aware that this is happening or has happened to you until it’s too late and you’re past the point of no return, utterly lost, stuck in a negative feedback loop. Upon finishing director Paul Owen’s LandLocked, I couldn’t help but think of the overabundance of nostalgia as it exists today, permeating everything from movies and music to television and art. We long to revisit moments in the past, to discover or recall days well forgotten; therefore, the market place shifts to accommodate for that. Amidst the joyous visitation of the past can come a creeping sensation to disengage from the present to avoid the future. In his latest feature, Owen appears to tackle the underbelly of nostalgia as a siren call best left well alone.
Shortly before the family home is set to be demolished, Mason Owens (Mason Owens) returns to sort through the remaining belongings to see if there’s anything worth salvaging. Hidden among the riffraff is an old video camera, which Mason begins to play with, only to discover that the aged tool functions as a portal to any moment in the past, enabling Mason to watch any moment and record it, should he choose. The longer he stays, the more he records, until he discovers something and, by that point, he’s too far into the memorial process to let it lie.
From top to bottom, LandLocked embraces the notion of “lo-fi.” The cast is made up of Paul’s family, with each playing a variation on themselves, and the videos we watch come from the family collection. This makes the entirety of the film feel more authentic due to the lack of polishing. As a kind of meta commentary, the film can be viewed as the audience discovering a VHS tape that’s captured Mason’s passage through family memory, continuing the notion of discovery via early digital technology. There’s little in the way of scoring, relying primarily on natural sounds to make up the world. It’s an interesting approach which does help to cultivate a sense of realness in the environment as the house seems to be a little isolated, though close to a semi-busy road. The lack of scoring plays up the “tucked within nature” feel, which aids in the unease which slowly permeates the narrative.
What’s fascinating about LandLocked is Mason’s initially reactions to finding out that he has a camcorder capable of enabling him to revisit any moment on the property: first, shock; second, cataloging. As someone who began making annual family photo albums with the birth of our first child, the notion of preserving memories makes a great deal of sense. I don’t have much before that period because (a) I never really owned tech capable of taking photos/videos and (b) having moved so much since my parents’ divorce, I couldn’t tell you where photos of my life are. Being able to tell stories and then have photos to look back on is fantastic. When the appearance of Mason’s decision shifts from mere cataloging into fixation is difficult for the audience to understand as we don’t know anything about him or his relationship to his sibling and deceased father. Outside of the opening in which Mason’s dad (played by Jeffrey Owens) sets up the context of the demolition via a homemade video intermixed with family footage, there’s little talk of their father or anything that offers a sense of this family’s dynamic. Was their time together beloved or fraught? Has Mason been avoiding coming to the house for such a long period that he doesn’t have a key, thus prompting him to climb in a window? A certain amount of mystique forces the audience to lean in, but then something needs to come out of that in order to keep us paying attention. As a result, the audience is left following someone that they have no vested interest in. There’s certainly an engaging premise and the narrative’s exploration of an inability to let go of the past goes to an interesting and dark place that leads toward a nihilistic feeling of inevitability, but, beyond this, there’s little to hold one’s interest.
The major success here is the ending, which comes to a particularly clever and dark conclusion. It’s shot so beautifully that I felt claustrophobic in the watching, until relief came in the form of Mason’s exit from confinement. But with that freedom comes a horrible realization that we’re not given much time to ponder before the credits. It leaves the audience a little breathless in its wake, which is why I found myself, though not enamored with LandLocked, unable not to think about it afterward. Despite my lack of connection to the characters, the feeling of nostalgic reclamation running throughout the film lingered, sending my thoughts spiraling. Given the chance to reconnect with a lost loved one(s), if offered such a portal to the past, would I take advantage of it? There are so many whom are no longer here physically that I’d love to talk with again. The difference between myself and Mason, though, is I have my children to look toward whereas all he has is to look backward. Since we know nothing about him beyond the house, beyond his memories, there’s no doubt that he’s landlocked, unable to go further than his family’s soon-to-be-destroyed doorstep.
Screening during the 2021 Nightstream Festival.
Head to the official LandLocked Eventive page to watch the film during the festival.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.