Written and Directed by: Graham Zielinski
STARRING: Jonathan Schelmety and Esmeree Sterling
Producer: Graham Zielinski
Free Me is the first short from Writer/Director Graham Zielinski, and as a first-time piece of filmmaking it is a valiant effort, with strong, imaginative cinematography from DoP Tyler Brebner which creates a brooding atmosphere reminiscent of film noir. The editing, also by Brebner, is slick, and the story unfolds at a snappy pace, deftly avoiding the pitfall so frequent with less experienced filmmakers, of making something that feels too long.
The premise has potential: a woman (Esmeree Sterling) wakes to find herself the victim of a kidnapping; tied to a chair in the kidnapper’s dining room. But this kidnapper (Jonathan Schelmety) is a little unusual: true, he’s your typical lonely stalker, starved of affection and convinced that over time he will be able to persuade the woman he finds “so beautiful” to fall in love with him; but he’s also considerate; he’s made a candlelit dinner for his victim and offers her painkillers for her headache.
The cinematography adeptly enhances the story: at the beginning, the victim is well-lit, whilst the kidnapper is placed in the shadows, suggesting his shady and impenetrable nature. Towards the end of the film, this reverses; the victim becomes the one in the shadows whilst the kidnapper’s face is finally highlighted, suggesting a shift. The lighting also becomes progressively darker throughout the film with the colour palette getting colder as the days unfold, implying, perhaps, that the perpetrator’s hope of getting what he wants is fading.
Composer Cameron Honeyager has done an excellent job of enhancing the dark, tense atmosphere with music which feels nuanced and specific to each emotional moment of the film. The dialogue, unfortunately, is less stylish. At times it’s very on the nose, with the kidnapper explaining his motives in blunt terms, responding to the victim’s rather clunky lines, “You must have come across somebody who wanted to love you” with “No. No one’s ever loved me”. It feels like obvious character exposition rather than something real people would say; and is lacking in nuance; which is a shame given the high production values.
It also felt as though there was a missed opportunity in the development of the female character. Actress Esmeree Sterling gave a dynamic performance but it was a shame to see her talents wasted playing a stereotypical damsel in distress. The character was strong-minded, but didn't seem to have much depth - she was merely a foil to the story, an upset, angry victim. Very little of her inner life, back story or take on the world was hinted at. whereas it was (albeit a little clumsily) with the male character.
Overall, however, this is a promising piece of work from a new director, who, if he can work with a more experienced writer or hone his dialogue skills to match the production values of this short, should do well.
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