By Dan Fienberg | October 18, 2002

When her husband leaves for two weeks away on business, a young wife (Leah Loftin) realizes she’s never been alone before and quickly descends into madness in this short film by Michael Colton Miley. At first she merely obsessively cleans the house, but the discovery of an old chain leads to a cycle of self-mutilation which continues even when her husband returns. Beautifully shot by Rodney Chauvin, using color filtering to suggest mood, the house becomes a center of both comfort and isolation for the wife, as she becomes increasingly psychologically disturbed.
The heroine’s disconnect from reality is handled convincingly. Miley sense of framing is excellent and conveys his character’s alienation with her surroundings. He keeps containing her, either in doorways and hallways, or in tightly shot close-ups. Loftin carries what is essentially a one-woman show with a fine portrayal of compulsive behavior.
Based on a short story by Valerie Martin, “Surface Calm” is well-made if not entirely involving. Although it’s a short film, the murky tone and intentional claustrophobia sometimes become a bit much. The story also retains the kind of broad symbolism that short stories thrive on, but that rarely seem anything other than clunky on screen.

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