Updated: May 15
Pioneers tells the story of two desperate pioneer women who escape together across the midwestern desert in 1848. In a twisted and gripping tale of survival, the duo shatters our expectations of the typical damsels in distress and deliver a story of physical and psychological survival.
Providing a film that immediately proves itself to be top-tier on just about every level, Bianca Rusu and Diana Irvine write and star in one of the most cinematic short films in recent memory. Under the direction of Charlotte Fassler and Dani Girdwood, Rusu and Irvine play Cora and Mattie respectively, who enter the story running from an attack and embarking on a long walk through the wildness of the 1840s American Midwest in a fight for survival.
Great care seems to have been taken to ensure that everything about Cora and Mattie projects fragility and vulnerability, from their conservative and ladylike clothing to Mattie being pregnant. Every element plays a part to illustrate and then underscore how desperate the situation is. Fassler and Girdwood take full advantage of a landscape with seemingly no signs of civilisation for miles in any direction, serving the story via huge aerial shots as well as well as capturing the heat shimmer from ground level.
Alison Anderson’s photography is stunning, using natural light to its fullest effect, from searing midday heat, almost bleaching colour from the frame to breath-taking dusk shots, capturing every changing colour in the darkening sky. Anderson revels in visual detail, picking up every smear of dirt and every cracked lip. All of this combines to paint a picture of the toll being taken on our protagonists and how far they are from salvation.
The visuals are taken to another level when combined with the sound mix and score. Mike Vitacco’s sound design captures the emptiness of the wind and the lifelessness of the earth. When combined with the haunting score from Juliana Barwick, the desolation of the American frontier is amplified to the point that any sense of hope is drowned out.
None of this reaches its full potential without the fantastic performances of Rusu and Irvine. Irvine portrays determination without the betrayal of her fear or desperation undermining her resolve. Rusu completely sells her slow unravelling from confident leader to broken and lost. Both actors are awe inspiring as two women relying on each other to survive, throwing off the preconceptions of female fragility in a journey subverting as it is brilliantly executed.
Pioneers is a genuine cinematic treat in short film form and a very high recommendation.
Studio: SLMBR PRTY | Year: 2019 | Genre: Western/Period Drama | Duration: 11 mins | Suitability: Mature - Some scenes may be unsettling for younger viewers