Stranger With My Face Film Festival Short Review: GARDENING AT NIGHT

Shayna Connelly wrote and directed GARDENING AT NIGHT in which she describes her own work as an exploration of haunting and mourning, and this twelve minute short definitely fits snugly between those two categories. It takes the viewer over the course of a single night, where Samantha is anticipating the death of one of her oldest friends, Anne, who is across the country. She is receiving updates via phone calls and while waiting for the unfortunate, yet inevitable news, she decides to work on her neglected garden in the middle of the night. 

Connelly weaves a linear story, allowing us to grasp the story without having to really spell it out for us. She uses some narrative tricks to help clue us in on certain things, including shadow play and voice-overs, and it may come off as a bit obtuse, but by the end of the short it's wrapped itself up into a neat little bow. A few of these bits come off a bit more akin to something from a stage play, not a film, and it can take you out of the experience if even only for a moment. 

Samantha, played by Janelle Snow, does a great job at showcasing her own fragility but also managing to portray the strength that is eventually built to help her assist Anne with releasing herself from the fear of death. As Samantha digs in her garden, her motion sensor light keeps going off and she has to wave over and over again frustratingly to bring it back to life. As this is happening, we can hear her talking with Anne about her cancer and treatments, before finally she's finished and leaves the hose on the lawn as the lights click out. As she struggles to create and fuel life, she is able to let the lights dim once her work is finally done, striking a poignant chord. 

It's obviously a personal short, with an "in memoriam" at the end, but Connelly does a good job at showcasing the strength it takes other to accept death. It's a tale of mourning but with a silver lining around it. Despite a few sound editing hiccups and some cinematographic decisions that don't really flesh out, GARDENING AT NIGHT is a solid dramatic tale that exploits something we all have to deal with eventually. 

Ryan Larson