Set in 2071 in a snowy wilderness, Justin Lewis’ short film, Serene Valley, follows a young girl (Christine Mascolo), armed with a bow and arrow, as she tries to safely escort an even younger boy (Jonah Lujan) to a border camp. The boy is of some value, and he is being chased down by a group of people while the girl does her best to get him far away from them. Or so it seems.
Whereas many sci-fi short films, or tales of the future, over-indulge in exposition to let you know what’s going on, Serene Valley focuses instead on the actions of the characters, and lets casual conversation fill you in on some of the details. We know there was a war, we know that the people are divided and, again, the boy has some value. On one hand, it’s nice to get to experience the world in a more natural way, as opposed to being assaulted with backstory. On the other hand, the stakes are never entirely clear.
Considering the film turns on a tough moment at the end, it would’ve been nice to know just how truly tough that moment really was. We get hints, but without a clear idea of what exactly was going on, the impact is lessened somewhat. We can imagine, however, but your ultimate appreciation may rest on how far you let your imagination take it.
Still, the film looks great. The imagery often has that dingy (in a good way) quality that you often see in HDR photography, and the composition is strong. The stakes may be somewhat vague, but the filmmaking skills behind the camera are spot-on.
Overall, I appreciated Serene Valley. I just felt like I was missing out on something greater due to a lack of information. Again, though, it’s a rough balance to strike. Too much information, and you lose the focus of the audience because it feels like you’re cramming for a test. Too little information, and you feel like you’re supposed to know something you don’t. Both can be frustrating, but that’s the risk.
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