Grief is something that everyone deals with at some point in their lives. If you’re lucky, you’ll be well into adulthood before it strikes, but as long as you have other people in your life, eventually you’re going to lose some of them. And despite all the books that have been written on the subject, all the TED Talks, all the films… it hits everyone differently. Sometimes in ways you could never expect.
SHOW YOURSELF is a film about the unpredictable nature of grief. The main character is Travis, a somewhat pretentious actor who decides to drive out into the woods to spread the ashes of his recently deceased best friend, Paul. As handheld footage flashbacks show us, they spent a great deal of time out there with their circle of friends. This time, Travis is out there alone. Or at least, he thinks he is. As he falls deeper and deeper into his grief, incidents begin to occur that make him question if he really is alone, or if he’s losing his mind.
This film does a wonderful job of balancing its emotional payload. The scary moments are sandwiched in between scenes of lightness, humor, vulnerability and pain. Much like the experience of grief itself. One moment you can be enjoying a hike through the woods, golden sunlight filtering through the leaves, upbeat music playing through your headphones, and the world will seem at peace. Then you hear something that reminds you of your loved one’s voice and all of a sudden the illusion is shattered and you’re right back in the depths of your despair. Even with the supernatural and/or psychological elements at play here, these scenes truly speak to the emotional instability of a loss still fresh in your mind and heart.
The most realistic and moving aspects of the film were the portrayals of adult friendships, strained by distance and loss. Travis is alone up in the woods, but he makes sure to call and Facetime with several friends who are going through the same journey of bereavement. These conversations feel truly genuine, as the characters dance back and forth over emotional fault lines. They jump from awkwardness, to humor, to incisive observations, and back again. It’s never easy for men to talk about how they feel, but real friends will drag it out, through the pain. Even if it takes a few shots of bourbon to get there.
The scares themselves are smartly done. The director makes great use of background action, distant noises and small movements to set up the horrifying presence that Travis must contend with. The fact that many of the scariest moments happen in broad daylight is even more impressive. When working with small budgets, utilizing all the tools at your disposal to create an atmosphere of dread is a must, and SHOW YOURSELF manages to get a lot of mileage out of some very simple and effective devices.
The only aspect of this film I can see being controversial among moviegoers is the ending, which I can already predict will be divisive. I personally see it as a very effective emotional payoff that brings home Travis’s journey in a way that feels true to life. But, without spoiling anything, I can expect some complaints of it being anticlimactic. I will let you all judge for yourselves on that one.
Overall, SHOW YOURSELF surprised me with how effective it was at portraying grief and friendship in such a realistic fashion, within the context of a nightmarish scenario. Props to director Billy Ray Brewton for juggling these elements so effectively, and to lead actor Ben Hethcoat for carrying the dramatic weight of the film.
SHOW YOURSELF will be released August 14th on DVD, Google Play and XBox. The film is available now on Amazon Instant Video.