By Mark Bell | December 11, 2013

Ruby (Leah Catherine Thompson) and her baby sister live with their father, Oscar (Phillip Jordan Brooks). Already a family wrecked by the death of Ruby’s mother, they experience another tragedy when Oscar leaves his baby daughter in the car on a hot day while he’s at his first day of work at a new job. By the time he realizes what has happened, it is too late. After returning home and burying his daughter in the yard, with the help of Ruby, Oscar falls into a catatonic state.

Unable to move or speak, Oscar sits in the living room as Ruby tends to him. As Ruby does her best to bring her father back from the depressive depths he’s lost in, bills are piling up, and suspicions are rising from the neighbors and the school counselor, as Ruby has mysterious bruises on her arms.

Phillip Jordan Brooks’s Ruby and the Dragon is a tragic odyssey. At times brutal and unsettling in emotion, the short film paints a bleak picture of a young girl trying to save what remains of her family as the world slowly falls apart around her.

Shot in black and white, the film’s lack of color allows it to wallow in the shadows that its narrative presents, while also treating the entire film as if it could be one of the shadow plays Ruby would so often perform for her baby sister. The shadow play idea persists if you look at the title with Oscar as the dragon being treated. As the outside world descends on Ruby and Oscar, thinking it’s for Ruby’s own good and without a firm grasp of the reality of the situation, it is not unlike a group of townspeople descending on a cave to kill off an ill-protected, misunderstood dragon of fantasy. Unfortunately for Ruby and Oscar, this isn’t a dark fairy tale, but instead heartbreaking reality.

While I can’t say the film’s resolution was something I enjoyed, I do respect the way the film escalates the tragic nature of its tale to such an emotional crescendo. You can see for miles that eventually Ruby and Oscar’s world would be invaded by society at large, but I don’t know that you could’ve predicted how that invasion is met. I know I didn’t.

Ultimately, Ruby and the Dragon is a rough film to watch, challenging the viewer with its increasingly dark narrative. Not quite an emotional rollercoaster so much as the feeling of being hit in the face with an emotional shovel, with a brief respite where one can gain hope that the shovel is gone, before getting hit even harder. In other words, it can be an emotionally intense experience, and it doesn’t leave you smiling in the end.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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