The Movie Waffler Shorts Showcase - JANUARY HYMN / HUX / AN ENTANGLEMENT | The Movie Waffler


Reviews of three recent shorts.

Reviews by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

January Hymn

As the nights draw in and the weather begins to darken, our thoughts turn inward and we become more contemplative and, yes indeed, philosophical here at The Movie Waffler. And, as if in perfect synchronicity, upon checking our inbox three shorts have arrived which reflect this pensive state of mind. The first, Katherine Canty’s abstract January Hymn, centres on a young woman (Clara - Niamh Algar) returning home to commemorate the first anniversary of her father’s death.

Recondite by design, Canty’s film is a visual poem. The intangible grief of Clara’s homecoming is expressed through deliberate and striking imagery; images that are related in obscure and tangential ways: the dirt beneath a fingernail match cuts to a crucifix caked in mud, a transition that mirrors the cruel syncopation of memory. The sound design serves to unsettle, a near imperceptible swell is interrupted by loud noises (sparse dialogue, the rude blast of a train’s horn) from the film’s diegesis, suggestive of the wider world intruding upon private suffering.

Could Canty ever be tempted to make a serious minded horror short? Her capacity to unnerve, to capture the world through a glass darkly, is resolute. Clara looks to the skies hopefully, but, in frames that capture the animosity of natural winter light in an emotive manner which artificially generated imagery will never match, she is simply confronted with cruel nature; eternal and ambiguous. And as January Hymn ends, we the audience are left with an epigram from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.


In Mageina Tovah’s Oscar hopeful Hux, we see another young woman coping with the loss of a loved one. Hux (Tovah) misses her understanding and patient grandfather (spotted in flashback as none other than Harry Dean Stanton), and aspects of her autism, which manifests in aversion to stimuli and social anxiety, have been accentuated by the loss. In similarity to January Hymn, Hux also uses filmic grammar to express an emotional state, although here the white noise of a kettle boiling or the electric buzz of a light fitting serve to shred the mise-en-scene, effectively causing a different type of alienation. What’s more, the intrusion of everyday noises serve to distract Hux from background news reports, which, Shaun of the Dead style, slowly suggest an emergency spreading across state.

In popular culture, the end of the world scenario is at a peak currency. Shows like The Walking Dead shuffle on imperious, unstoppable and shambling as the ghouls depicted within. In teen cinema, earnestly good looking kids emote against scorched dystopian backgrounds, ultimately proving their mettle against the odds. I think the key appeal of these ultra-conservative texts is their entailment of responsibility: in the apocalypse one has to stand on their own two feet, the state and even society don’t exist, and only the most rugged and Darwinian of individuals survive. Tovah’s take on this trope is refreshing: Hux is vulnerable, a victim of circumstance who cannot function in even the most basic social situations. The end of the world is a blessing to Hux: with the noise turned down, she can finally hear herself.

Tovah’s film begins in the realm of appealing enough quirk before carefully building to a poignant final act wherein the true, heart-breaking implications of Hux’s condition are exemplified. Her despair is shown to us in order to make Hux’s eventual management of her autism and acceptance of responsibility all the more impressive. A different kind of beauty to January Hymn is demonstrated in the film’s closing moments, which movingly depicts a happy ending at the end of the world. It is quite, quite lovely.

An Entanglement

In An Entanglement, Dylan Sanford and Yancy Berns' crime short, we see a married couple abdicating responsibility in the most sinister and definitive manner. In a diner, Violet (Sheri Appleby) is joined at her table by a charismatic man (Sean Bell). What initially seems like flirtation rapidly escalates into something far more threatening when it transpires that Violet’s husband (Richard - Gary Wolf) has sent the man, who turns out to be a cold as you like professional hitman, to kill her.

In the ensuing scenes in the diner, in a performance impeccably acted by Appleby wherein she matches the hitman’s sinister insistence with persistent negotiation, tension is skilfully served up. The hunted becomes the hunter as Violet matches her husband’s price, and the man ‘who does odd jobs’ eventually decides to work for her. Surely a divorce would be less bloody, and certainly cheaper?

The cool implications of the film’s opening switch to more expressive violence in the film’s second half, with the statuesque and naked Bell stalking the husband like some sort of vengeful, Biblical angel. At times, the script veers into some unintentional silliness: when the hitman brandishes a pair of GHDs (explicitly linking his actions to the demands of female Violet), Richard whimpers, ‘are you gonna shove them up my asshole?’- you what?! However, by the time of the film’s playfully ambiguous pay off, the vigilantly built suspense of An Entanglement is deftly honoured, with Richard, and the audience, encouraged to reflect upon the couple’s hasty actions.