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  • Writer's pictureP D Dawson

Portent (Short Film Review)

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Dartmoor, known for its myths and legends, is the location for the award-winning short film, Portent, directed by Justin Carter and written by Dom Lee. It starts with two lovers, Tom (Richard Knox) & Ellie (Morwenna Towns) who set out on a hiking expedition. They are well equipped – have a tent, map, compass, watch, hiking gear, but that means nothing when facing the unknown entities hidden in the mist, or the unseen forces that are perhaps cunningly planning the couple’s demise. I must point out early on that Ellie is deaf and that the two lovers only communicate with sign language. It certainly gives the film an edge, something noticeable from the very start.

Things begin well for the couple, and there is even a moment early on when Ellie runs up and scares Tom by playfully jumping on his back. Things don’t stay that way however, and it’s not long before things begin to take on a darker edge. Through strange occurrences witnessed mostly by Ellie, the viewer is rendered with a sense of unease. Dartmoor is already a rather eerie and isolated place, full of bogs, ancient stones, rivers and difficult rocky and uneven terrain, but at the hands of director, Justin Carter, and everyone else behind the scenes, the film is imbued with a sense of foreboding that goes beyond what happens on screen, and sinks deeper still into the subconscious mind of the viewer.

Anyone who has ever visited the moors, or similarly desolate and lonely places, can empathise with the plight of Ellie (acted beautifully and sensitively by Morweena Towns) and her building fear. However, it being a short film, we are not given any sense of the couple’s relationship outside of this situation. One can imagine though, that Ellie is prone to extrasensory illusion or perception brought on by her deafness, and that Tom (played with great subtlety and expressiveness by Richard Knox) is used to this, for in the beginning he dismisses her experiences and puts one incident in particular down to a dream, and only later begins to empathise a little with her feelings. There is a moment where Tom agrees that they will stay the night in a village five miles away, but I shall not say here whether they make it that far. Tom himself has problems with his watch and it is not until later in the film that we see the significance of this. In fact the watch is a useful tool used to great effect by the filmmakers. At the end it alludes to the mystery of the couple’s plight, and invokes in the viewer a haunting and inescapable fate.

The filmmakers and the two lead actors should be very proud of their achievement, especially on the low budget they had to work with. Throughout the film we see shifting weather patterns that give a sense of time passing and show the moors, literally, in many different lights. But with the wonderfully atmospheric and haunting music by Benjamin Akira Tallamy, and the perfectly paced editing by Dom Lee, there is a continuousness to the isolation that nicely stitches the film together. The cinematography by Sam Coles also shows the beauty and atmosphere of the location, and even in the darker scenes there is a magical quality to the light. One favourite shot of mine happens towards the end of the film – it is a distant shot of Tom and Ellie walking through the trees, and just as they exit the screen the sunlight brightens some of the tree trunks in a magical way, and that was perhaps down to luck, but it is a beautiful moment and a wonderful shot nonetheless.

I absolutely loved this film and was struck by the originality and effectiveness of having the two main characters only speak through sign language. As I’ve already said, that gave it an extra edge, and in the hands of less able actors, might not have worked, but by all accounts the film was beautifully acted and well poised by both of its stars, and brilliantly directed too. In fact the only thing I have against this film is that it wasn’t long enough, for by the end I found myself wanting more, and now that’s hardly a bad thing. Highly recommended viewing indeed.

If you want to find out even more about the film, then I highly recommend you check out the interview I did with director Justin Carter and Richard Knox, who plays Tom in the film. You can find both interviews in my blog.

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