A teenager wakes up and discovers she's the last person on Earth.
Producer Alexandra Blue shepherds another first-class short film to our screens as director Christopher Haydon and writer Iona Firouzabadi bring us an unsettling tale of loneliness. As with all good storytelling, Martha is a film that puts character first and propels us into the film’s world through the eyes of the titular protagonist (Shannon Tarbet). We are presented with a carefree teenager, being reminded by her mother via voicemail to study for her exams, not to throw any parties and most importantly, that she will be home soon. This last part gains particular prominence and significance as the film’s premise kicks in.
As Martha leaves her house she spots a crashed car with no one in it. Slowly she begins to realise that there are no people anywhere. The sequence in which this happens is constructed masterfully. Between Haydon’s direction, Julie Buckland’s editing, Aaron Reid’s stunning cinematography and of course Shannon Tarbet’s performance, we are forced onto a gut churning rollercoaster as we watch Martha’s anxiety turn to panic and finally resignation as she gets further and further from home and finds no one.
The film does a great job of communicating scale. This is an inescapable task when selling the premise of your character being the last person on Earth, but Martha does an impressive job of selling this scenario. We see empty neighbourhoods, abandoned ice-cream vans and silent city centres. This in conjunction with Tarbet’s fantastic portrayal of a young woman’s descent into solitude and the twists and turns through fear, mania, depression, even freedom, that come with it, all serve to heighten the sense that this is happening for real.
The craft behind this film is truly impressive. The way that Christopher Haydon demonstrates how to communicate theme, emotion and state of mind via drawing out performances, staging a scene or working with the cinematographer and editor, allows us to fully appreciate the storytelling potential of each individual element of the film. The sensory impact of the sound mix, breath-taking rooftop sunsets, song choices and even the deafening silence put us squarely in Martha’s state of mind. We feel every inch of her solitude, fear and sadness. This also allows us to feel the ground shift beneath her as the story takes a sudden and unexpected turn.
Martha is a deeply personal and emotional film and Shannon Tarbet carries it amazingly. The story is intelligently written and its translation to the screen is handled with the kind of artistic mastery that allows it to provide the sort of cinematic experience that stays with you long after we cut to black.
This is short film at the top of its game and is highly recommended.
Studio: BFI Network/Bluebird Productions | Year: 2019 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 16 Mins | Suitability: Mature
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