SLAMDANCE 2020 FILM REVIEW! Featuring a lot of unease, an abundance of tension, slick aesthetics, and editing, The Motorist sure looks and sounds great. Still, ultimately, it’s a very frustrating example of a film that raises a lot of questions and answers virtually none. Directed by Ciaron Lyons, this short film is certainly an intense experience. It’s wonderfully acted, and it has an incredible score that really dials onto a sense of mystery and dread. Still, I have no idea what was happening.
I’m going to describe what I think was going on as best as I can. The Motorist features a terrified and tired looking man (John Cooke) sitting in his car. Apparently, The Motorist has hit someone, and now he’s surrounded by a bunch of people banging on his vehicle violently. There’s a Priest (Douglas Russell) who calmly tells him to get out of the car. There’s a bonfire, a mysterious tattoo, and an elderly woman babbling nonsense, and then some wacky shit that happens in the end.
I don’t want to spoil any more of it, mainly because it’s only 10 minutes long, and I feel like I’ve already said too much about the plot. This film is oozing with style and atmosphere, and I can forgive the what-the-fuckery because it’s a short film that might be serving as a proof of concept for something longer. I want to see an extended version of this. I want to know what’s going on, and I have a feeling I’ll be speculating about what I just saw for a good long while. Still, if you’re looking for something that makes sense and tells a thoroughly satisfying story, then you’re just not going to find it with this one.
“…The Motorist has hit someone, and now he’s surrounded by a bunch of people banging on his vehicle violently.”
Despite the vague story, The Motorist is still definitely entertaining and mesmerizing. With a little more context and a longer runtime, I think it would have been something brilliant and completely unique. The music’s shrieking rhythms add so much to the experience, and it quickens its tempo perfectly in tune with the chaos happening on screen. The dull colors and imagery are unnatural and otherworldly. John Cooke has no lines, but he believably emotes terror and remorse.
Douglass Russell plays The Priest with a hint of malevolence unpredictability. There’s something dark about him, and every time he’s on-screen, my eyes were drawn to him. Maria Macdonnell plays Mary, an older woman who seems to take a little pity on the titular Motorist. Again, I’m not sure who these characters are and what their situation is. This film feels like it just kind of drops you off in the middle of a story with no explanation and no frame of reference.
Overall though, The Motorist is worth seeking out. I sincerely hope that Ciaron Lyons and his cinematographer David Liddell get to work together on something longer and with a bigger budget. I really believe, if given the opportunity, they’d make one hell of an interesting feature-length film. Still, I can’t help but feel that this short’s narrative was a bit too vague for me to enjoy fully.
The Motorist screened at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival.