College student Jacob (Ethan Crenshaw) has reluctantly returned to his hometown after the suicide of his best friend Taylor. Palling around with drug dealer Spooky (D.J. Simmons), Jacob meets up and interacts with various people from his and Taylor’s lives, including Taylor’s ex-girlfriend Liz (Golbon Eghtedari). Barely able to hide his disdain for the town, and its inhabitants, Jacob tries to come to terms with his own grief, and what it means to exist.
Saumene Mehrdady’s So Slowly We Decay is a mood piece whose title accurately reflects the pacing and feel of the film. From beginning to end, the film seems to exist in a subdued haze. The mood is a somber one, the pacing deliberate.
Somehow that pacing doesn’t come off as laborious, though this isn’t a film for short attention spans; it’s conversations and reflections on life, with a few major scenes that address the experience while the mood setting fills in around them. It’s a study of various coping mechanisms, and an example of the ever-dwindling life experience.
I didn’t find the film to be one where the edit allowed the scenes to breath too much, but for a short it is a long film. It lives in short film No Man’s Land (which I’ve addressed a number of times before); too long to comfortably hold the title of “short” and too short to be considered a feature. There are practical considerations and fallout for this choice (film festivals, for example, are not often programming-friendly for such lengths), but without knowing the filmmakers’ intentions with the film, I can’t say whether they’ve entirely done themselves a disservice by not being more heavy-handed with the editorial blade. It works at this running time, but maybe it could work with less.
While the film’s meandering pace works for its mood, it doesn’t always engage. Ethan Crenshaw’s almost surfer boy cadence, coupled with a sometimes slow motion delivery, tends to lull one into a fit of ennui. It’s fitting considering where his disenchanted mind is at, but it means that, on screen, there’s not often relief from the melancholy. Perhaps Spooky’s stoner conspiracy theories are supposed to be that levity and fun, but mostly they’re just cliché.
Which brings us back to this being a mood piece, and one not built for short attention spans. Also, because the narrative’s tale of tragedy inspiring the return of someone to the small town they abandoned is nothing new, if you don’t engage the film on a more emotional or visceral level, you’re not going to be enticed in by any originality. The film certainly looks and sounds good, so the technical aspects are up to snuff, but it’s not going to be for everyone, and may not be as deep as it thinks it is. Still, if you can connect with it, more power to you; I was more underwhelmed than inspired.
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