The Isle of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, is home to the Iona Abbey, one of the oldest Christian centers in all the world. As a central hub to the spreading of Christianity throughout Scotland, it remains an active pilgrimage site and plays host to spiritual retreats. Adorned with lush, green hills and surrounded by crystal clear waters just looking at the Isle brings thoughts of a higher power and human’s place in the universe.
Knowing all of this, Ryan Hendrick’s short Sundown is perhaps the perfect movie that could use the land as a setting for its story. The plot seems relatively straightforward but proves impactful and thought-provoking.
William (Frazer Hines), a man in his twilight years, travels to the Isle of Iona. As he wanders the small town and footpaths, the reason he returned to the Isle now comes to light. A young acquaintance, Abi (Caitlin Blackwood) writes him a letter, discussing her hopes for his life at this moment and how he needs to be ready for what lies ahead.
“…a letter discussing her hopes for his life and how he needs to be ready for what lies ahead.”
See, Abi is still a young lady, probably between 18 and 20 years of age. William’s age is never outright stated, but Hines is 74, so the character is presumably roughly that age. As more voice over from Abi questions the fear of dying versus embracing both life and death, William sits down on a rocky cliff by the seaside. Does he recognize his mortality? Does he accept Abi’s death years earlier?
Hendrick and co-writer Clare Sheppard aren’t all that interested in answering those questions. Rather, this 12-minute short’s goal is to be as impressionistic as possible. It wants to leave the audience questioning themselves- do they fear death? Do they accept its inevitability? The emotions, the feeling of each shot, each music cue, each word, is what pulls the audience in.
“…guides the camera with a painterly eye, allowing the Isle of Iona’s natural beauty to leave a haunting impact.”
The two-person cast, Hines, and Blackwood, are easily up to the challenges. Hines has a handful of lines, all responses to the vanishing visage of Abi, but he makes each word matter. Blackwood is a captivating vision from her first appearance and commands the audience’s attention whenever she appears.
The key to Sundown’s surprising power is the cinematography. John Rhodes guides the camera with a painterly eye, allowing the Isle of Iona’s natural beauty to leave a haunting impact. The few buildings that are seen stand in stark contrast to the rolling sea and neverending hills, which adds to the mystic wonders presented by the setting. The purple sunset at the end of the movie, “the day’s last breath” before the night comes, is spectacular and ties everything the film is building towards brilliantly.
Sundown examine’s a weighty topic with grace, dignity, excellent acting, and impressionistic, lovely cinematography. A tour de force in every way.
Sundown (2018) Directed by Ryan Hendrick. Written by Ryan Hendrick, Clare Sheppard. Starring Frazer Hines, Caitlin Blackwood. Sundown screened at the 2018 HollyShorts Film Festival.
10 Gummi Bears (out of 10 stars)