Despite their ravenous appetite and deceptively cuddly exterior, grizzly bears have never attained their rightful place among sharks as cinematic mainstays of indiscriminate danger. The Revenant did much to bolster the grizzly’s reputation in this regard, and now Mt. Molehill is pushing the needle a little farther.
The film takes place sometime in the 19th century, as is evident by the construction of what is implied to be the First Transcontinental Railroad. One of the workers is mauled by a grizzly bear (an unrecognizable Brutus) and leaves behind a young daughter, Shan (Julia Ma). Armed with nothing but a rifle and an insatiable appetite for vengeance, Shan ventures out into the woods to find the bear who killed her father and ensure its honey guzzling days are over.
Clocking in at less than 20 minutes, the film’s writer and director, Jesse Stewart, uses the economy of time and budget to his advantage. Through some strategic editing, he creates a rhythm of decisions and outcomes, bypassing their implementation completely. This gives the film a sprightly pace and a stylistic flair as Shan braves nature’s unforgiving terrain. Thematically, it removes the emphasis from the events themselves and reapplies it to Shan’s reaction to those events. This makes the film not about a tragedy, but about a free-thinking, determined, imperfect individual’s response to tragedy—initiative, rather than complacency.
“One of the workers is mauled by a grizzly bear (an unrecognizable Brutus) and leaves behind a young daughter…”
There’s also an admirable amount of detail put into the film, both in its luscious photography and the objects which inhabit it. When we first meet Shan, she’s wearing her father’s straw hat, marked with the bloody paw print of a sizable beast. In this image alone, we understand in a split-second what a clumsy chunk of dialogue could only hope to relate. As she rummages through her father’s belongings, she comes across several deliberately included, thematically relevant objects, one of which is a token reference to Moby Dick. There’s got to be another novel about someone with an illogical lust for revenge, right? At this point, if you’re a movie character and you’re carrying around a copy of Moby Dick, you can bet on experiencing a traumatic event at any given moment.
Child actors are always a gamble. They’re either wooden figurines or perfect naturals. Ma falls closer in proximity to the latter category, especially considering her performance is largely silent. Without the aid of dialogue, Ma gives Shan an adult dose of consideration in carrying out her master plan, so that even when she deviates from said plan, her internal reasoning is abundantly clear.
Mt. Molehill is a fun, thoughtfully photographed short film with an infectious sense of adventure. While the story itself is somewhat simple and doesn’t beg to be retold, there’s enough variation in its execution for it to maintain an air of novelty throughout. After all, it’s not about the act of revenge, so much as it’s about Shan’s passion for revenge, which is the far more fruitful angle for storytelling.
Mt. Molehill (2015) Directed by Jesse Stewart. Written by Jesse Stewart. Starring Julia Ma, Rodrigo Tactaquin, Jesse Phillips, Brutus.
7 out of 10