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Review: Thoughts and Prayers

Premise:

A powerful United States Senator lives out every American parent's worst nightmare when she receives a call from her teenage son.

Review:

As the world witnesses yet another tragic mass shooting in America, it is difficult to call director Evan Miller’s short drama timely so much as a commentary on arguably the most tragically common problem in America. Miller and co-writer Hardy Janson pen a story that all but jettisons subtlety from its themes, perhaps in recognition of the fact that as we approach a quarter of a century since the Columbine school shooting shocked the world, the problem only seems to have gotten worse and subtlety just isn’t working.


The story does not sensationalise or over dramatize the emotional hell that parents go through during a school shooting, opting simply to put us in an enclosed space with a mother listening to her son facing a potentially violent death and being utterly powerless to prevent it. The tension is real. The helplessness is real. The emotional tearing out of the characters’ (and our) hearts is real.


Miller’s frustration with the obstacles to this issue make themselves known in both the premise and the approach. Driving the point home that this issue, while constantly characterised as complex, is actually very simple, Miller chooses to deliver this message with the loudest microphone he can find – enter Adrianne Palicki and Zachary Levi as warring politicians blaming each other for the failure to enact common sense gun control.


The film opens with the senators facing off on a live news broadcast and makes the interesting choice of not specifying which side of the aisle these two politicians are on. While the film goes on to focus on Palicki’s Senator Barnes, there is never an explicit outlining of who the “bad guy” is. Both characters give clues that they are the roadblock to finding a solution, more concerned with “controlling the narrative” than fixing the problem. After using some very economical narrative table setting, Miller hits us with the crux of the story as Senator Barnes gets a call from her son and quickly realises something is very wrong.


What follows is a masterclass in tension-building and a stellar acting performance that carries a huge emotional load. The impact of the film hinges almost entirely on Palicki selling the absolute unrelenting terror of hearing her son tell her that he is trapped in his school with a shooter, and it is fair to say that Palicki completely (and heartbreakingly) nails it. Palicki expertly captures the process of slowly losing her grip on her air of calm and control as she initially tries to talk her son Adam through the process of methodically assessing his situation. The frenzied panic that this ultimately gives way to, ratchets up bit by bit with a dual countdown of Barnes’ distance from her son’s school and the slow approach of the shooter play out simultaneously, keeping us guessing as to which clock will run out first.


Another stylistic choice is to keep all of the events taking place within the school entirely off screen. Our only connection to Adam is a gut-wrenching voice performance from Colton McPherson and the visceral sound of violence and chaos threatening to find him.


Our exposure to the visceral horror that any parent will be able to relate to is the foundation of the story and ultimately the bottom line of the debate. Keeping the political affiliations hidden underscores the assertion that partisan gridlock is the ultimate enemy and irrespective of which side of the aisle the politicians are on, no one will be spared the consequences of political hubris. And those consequences will be as bipartisan as they will be merciless.


An excellent showcase of acting, editing, directing and straight-to-the-point writing, all held together by a chilling score, from Doug Beiden, Thoughts and Prayers is as tough a watch as it is essential.


Studio: No Mondays Productions | Year: 2022 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 9 Mins | Suitability: Mature


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