Stranger With My Face Short Film Review: PENDULUM (2017)

What would you do with your last weeks… days… hours if you knew that it was destiny for the world to end and it was completely out of your control? Would you dance the night away? Would you laugh, get high, drink, make love and run away from the reality of the sky above and the world below? Would you find that someone who you wanted to take that chance with or has been the love of your life and be near them? Would you deceive the masses, perhaps not to hurt them, but to make the world around them easier to face in those final moments? What would you do with the time you have left as the pendulum swung from one side to the other with nothing to stop it except time?

Produced, written, directed and starring the incredibly talented Lauren Cooney, comes a journey and coming-of-age story based around a doomsday sky. Opening this short film in an Indian village, we listen to a man giving an ominous and reflective warning of the consequences we have received by selling our soul and now time has come to collect. We then meet a young woman named Cerys (Cooney) and her companion Gwliym (Scott Michael Wagstaff) who in the heart of chaotic London are taking in the final days, coping the best they can. Escaping the city, the two head towards India where they plan to embrace and admire it’s beautiful terror. The two friends decide to confront the growing gravitational rip at the edge of the galaxy together no matter what happens. As the cosmological phenomenon paints the sky with the most beautiful, deep, and vast colors, stars, lines, and textures, Cerys and Gwliym find a community run by a mysterious man known as Derryk (Tom Sawyer). Both stray from their bond in this community but realize the power in each other together. As they journey, they must come to grips with their lives, emotions, choices and the new world around them in PENDULUM.

After watching this short form film three times, I am at a loss for words with PENDULUM. I have not experience a short film so powerful on so many levels and in the end, so emotionally draining. With a running time of about twenty minutes, Cooney tells a microcosm of the larger world and creates a love story against the dying blue sky. It shakes you. It invokes something deep inside you knowing that this could happen and more profound, what would you do in those final moments? I have always been a person that has questioned my work, my life, my destiny and my choices knowing that what we have here on earth is only fleeting. How much true power do we have in what we decide? How does each of us handle a reality like that? I mean sit back and truly think about if the world was to end and we had no control whatsoever… Even now at 40, I am overwhelmed with the notion. That is the power of this short film as it makes you question and ponder its overall message while also allowing you to dream and go deep inside of yourself to face the most frightening horror: reality.

Cooney, in the length of twenty minutes, invokes that with just a glimpse into a love letter for the hearts, pulsing as they face the end of the world. PENDULUM runs the emotional spectrum using performances, ideals, sounds, voices, fears and visuals to cultivate a variety of perspectives and perceptions. Like the film THESE FINAL HOURS from IFC Midnight, Cooney’s multi-layered storytelling uses every tool and the viewer’s soul to fully immerse them in so many other perspectives against the backdrop of the endless ocean sky. From a graphic design perspective, the endless ocean sky is a character in itself. The constant changing design and reactions like sand art of a kaleidoscope being turned by a young child. The size and scope is laid out wonderfully showing the truly beautiful terror that the characters in the story face.

The production itself was crafted with a deep care and focus. The crisp feel and diverse style of the cinematography with sweeping shots of the landscape in India and England as well as the tighter framing of the jungles and city streets creating a balance and paranoia in the same frame. The wonderful temperature created by the colors and shadows invoking so many scales of emotion. The mood setting effectiveness of the lighting that frames the range of humanity. The mystery created by the sound mix that keeps the viewer crisp and finds a primal soundscape to parallel the endless ocean sky with the unrest as well as the celebration on Earth. The characters that you come to care about as they move along the films canvas on an endless journey.

An example of how these elements come together in PENDULUM, revolves around one particular scene during the final sequence. It frames Cery’s face as she realizes that no matter what has happened, it does not matter. She is looking to the sky as the sky is growing brighter and washing over her, but thanks to effective post-production we see a clear reflection in her eyes like stars exploding. The camera holds the moment as the sound of cries, rumbles and more meets the melody of the end. It is just so powerful and yet a feeling of being so powerless against the rip expanding before her.

I know that this is not the usual review that you might see for a short film. However, PENDULUM deserves that poetic embrace that I hope I have achieved during this read. Tense, powerful, deep, and ultimately final, PENDULUM is a complete story that for me, I found a wanting to know more and see the further development of this world created. I highly recommend that you see PENDULUM whenever you can, especially on the big screen with surround sound in a theater.

Jay Kay
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