Having reached the lowest point in his life, a self-destructive man on the brink of demise receives an unexpected call from his estranged sister to look after her young daughter for the night.
Back in 2013, Shawn Christensen’s tale of redemption and reconnection between an estranged uncle and precocious but vulnerable niece walked away with the Academy Award for best live action short. Watching it nearly a decade later, it is not unreasonable to reach the conclusion that it would be just as capable of walking away with the same award were it released today.
Opening with a simple yet gut-churning image of a bloody hand, clutching a razor answering a phone demonstrates Christensen’s economy of storytelling, not to mention his ability to deliver a swift gut punch to the audience without a frame wasted on verbal exposition. Christensen also takes on the role of the protagonist Richie, again telling much of his story visually as an unkempt man immersed in bloody water, being interrupted mid-suicide attempt to be simultaneously asked for a favour and berated by his sister Maggie (Kim Allen).
The story knows where to expand on detail and where not to, filling us in on Richie and his sister’s strained relationship, establishing that she is in trouble and needs his help but not going into the details of what or why. By the time we hit the three-minute mark we are clear that the focus of this story will be Richie and his niece Sophia (Fatima Ptacek delivering an outstanding turn). While this appears to leave Maggie side-lined, Christensen pulling duties as writer as well as director and star, expertly weaves the reconciliation of Richie and Maggie into the burgeoning relationship with his niece. Allen herself underscores this with a performance that packs a punch, and bookends the film in a manner that makes her presence palpable throughout and central to Richie’s journey.
The heart and soul of this redemption tale, however, lies in the performance of the then 12-year-old Fatima Ptacek, who steals the show as Richie’s niece Sophia. With razor-sharp delivery and a stunning blend of all-knowing confidence and moving vulnerability, Ptacek exposes the emotional core that Christensen’s Richie tries so hard to suppress. The result is spellbinding chemistry that sells their relationship across the film’s 20-minute run time.
Aside from the performances under Christensen’s direction, this film looks gorgeous. Cinematographer Daniel Katz gives the film a wonderful cinematic texture, draping the earthy brown hues in shadow, while Ptacek’s Sophia seems to pop against the background of each shot. Though shot digitally, Christensen and Katz achieve a filmic look that matches the cinematic aspirations of the script. Christensen wisely crafts his story with a tightly woven and moving character journey, paced well enough to give the audience a feature film experience within a short film runtime.
When we talk about the potential of short film for effective and affecting storytelling, this is the kind of film we mean. Curfew is a masterclass in total narrative immersion and serves as a gold standard in short form storytelling.
Studio: Fuzzy Logic Pictures | Year: 2012 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 20 mins | Suitability: Mature