LOOM and Storytelling

Short films are some of the most intriguing and stylish examples of visual storytelling in the modern day. Short films have somewhat come into vogue over the past few years due to not only their lower cost, but also because it’s a lot easier to sell a high-concept piece when it’s followed by “the run time will only be between ten and twenty minutes”. Unfortunately, short films have become so obsessed with form that the function of storytelling is often entirely forgotten. Short films have increasingly become thematic pieces meant to showcase a visual style and interesting setting ideas. The story and narrative get lost in the shuffle and the result is the diet soda of film. It’s bereft of any real substance, but still wants to give you the flavor of the real thing. There is no voice to the work. More often than not, it’s extended works of fan-fiction. There are so many films out there that take an existing property like Portal, Harry Potter, There isn’t a message beyond the style, and that’s not what I personally want out of visual storytelling. I am not disparaging those that only desire style and visual technicality, but I simple want more out of short films, and most don’t deliver.

This isn’t always the case, and occasionally one comes along that really grabs me. The superb short film Cost of Living, which I have previously discussed, is an example of such a short film. I have seen a lot of short films since then, but none have really grabbed me in a way which would provoke meaningful discussion.

Enter the short film LOOM. LOOM is written and directed by Luke Scott, the son of film making legend Ridley Scott. As you might expect, the film is both a dystopian sci-fi exploration piece, and contains the sort of visuals and cast that only someone with pull or influence could achieve. LOOM clocks in at a robust twenty minutes, including credits, and stars Giovanni Ribisi as a geneticist for a major corporation. Before I discuss the film itself, here is the film itself. If you have the time, give it a watch. I recommend turning up your sound for this, as the dialogue is fragmented and quiet.

Hopefully you made it all the way through without any interruptions, and could hear the dialogue.

This piece is interesting because it is very clearly attempting to have a strong voice, strive for artistic merit, and yet obviously embrace the idea of attempting to get ensure the “correct look and feel” that so often entirely encompasses other short films. To say that film is inspired by his father’s work on Blade Runner is to attempt to short-hand the narrative. Yes, it’s in a dystopian future. Yes, it’s a world where corporations control everything. Yes, it’s a world where genetic experimentation is pushing the boundaries of science and creating artificial humans. So what? All of those things are the current vogue in sci-fi, an area that is already informed by the works of Ridley Scott. To ascribe him even more influence because of his father might be true, but I feel it rings a little hollow when you actually view the work.

Wow, the film. Let me go ahead and say, yes this short film is incredibly flawed, but this kid gets that the narrative is the most important thing. The sound editing is a mess, the dialogue is filled with false profundity and rambling philosophical statements, and the lighting is something other films might do, but not this one. Despite all that, I found myself not caring about these flaws because the short film actually has a story. It has a strong voice, and, while it didn’t explain everything (it doesn’t need to do so, in my opinion), it really delivers a cohesive, if not complete, narrative. Disagree? Let’s examine it.

The setting is established in newscast voice over and through conversation. This is showing rather than telling at its finest, and something I absolutely adore. I have gushed about this previously in my discussions of the Mass Effect series, Portal, and Cost of Living. You get a sense of history and depth not only in the world, but in the character through the conversation with his lab mates. The story is told quickly and with economy at the beginning, portraying a man who is confident in his criminal plans, and shows a desperation and sadness in his conversations with the all-seeing eye of the company. You get a feeling of squandered potential, rejection and loss in those first eight minutes. It’s vivid and compelling without the pretension that follows. You again get a very established feeling of aesthetic and world when we move to the apartment. The story is clear, he is creating a person, this is illegal, she is truly without guile. The artistic pretension is a bit cloying here, as the dialogue and framing gets bogged down with philosophical statements calculated to evoke emotion and thought. This is interrupted by the arrival of the corporate police, and you discover the main character’s problems with the establishment, his desire to protect his love/creation, and then a moment of desparation, confusion and loss. The counterpoint of philosophy, violence, loss, philosophy is an interesting one, and it goes to further the narrative. The artistic pretension is thick, but again the narrative is so cohesive that it almost doesn’t matter.

The visual style of the film is very precise for what he wants to achieve, without a doubt, and I can’t help but wonder if the excellence of the narrative will be lost on those who watch it. I sincerely hope not, as while this is definitely imperfect, it is the type of imperfection that everyone should attempt to achieve.

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