A single mum collects her teenage son from hospital following a suicide attempt, but quickly finds herself trapped between the medical advice she receives and her instincts as a parent.
It goes without saying that addressing issues as raw and emotive as mental health, particularly pertaining to teenage suicide, is not a task to be taken lightly. Director and writer Adam Etheridge meets this challenge with a good dose of sensitivity and skill as he takes us through the immediate aftermath of teenager Ben’s (Elliott Rose) attempted suicide. His mother Lydia (Laura Aikman) finds herself in a minefield that she has no idea how to navigate as she struggles to balance giving her son as normal an environment as possible while removing anything that could be a potential tool for suicide.
Rather than speculating and hypothesising as to the causes of teen suicide and attempting to provide a macro-level observation of the issue as a whole, Etheridge opts for an intimate and quietly gut-wrenching personal story. Focusing on single mum Lydia’s attempt to delicately manage a situation that has hit her like a freight train, Etheridge gets us inside of Lydia’s mind by emphasising the tiny details, ominously presenting pills, cutlery and door locks – everyday items that now represent a potential threat to her son’s life. It is through this perspective that the film expertly pulls off creating an experience based in mounting dread. A single shot sequence just past the halfway mark is an absolute masterclass in tension building.
The film overall is carried by a stellar performance from Laura Aikman. Navigating between stoic and being on the verge of psychological collapse without giving the audience emotional whiplash is no easy task. Nevertheless, Aikman’s approach to containing a mother’s reaction to her worst nightmare and knowing when and how to gradually release that energy elevates an already solid film to levels of true excellence. Elliott Rose also carries his share of the emotional load, wisely veering towards a walled-off performance while still brilliantly controlling those subtle tell-tale signs of fear and shame. Rose’s application of nuance tells us that he is carrying heavy burdens and is still figuring out how to share them.
Ultimately this is a journey of a mother trying to figure out how best to protect her son. The understated and close quarter coverage of both Lydia and Ben force us into the depths of their torment and while it is impossible to fully comprehend the situation being depicted, the film does an excellent job of highlighting the toll taken on the carers of those dealing with mental health issues.
Milk is as visceral and gut-wrenching as it is sensitive and tender. Adam Etheridge provides a sobering reminder of the ripple effect of mental health issues and the necessity of support systems to care for those suffering with their mental health and those doing their best to care for them. Understated yet powerful and immensely urgent, Milk is a short film that belongs on your watchlist.
Studio: Aspect Film and Video Productions | Year: 2021 | Genre: Dramar | Duration: 9 Mins | Suitability: Mature
Click the button to watch this film on the online Aesthetica Short Film Festival platform until 30th November 2022.
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