By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
“To Be Alone” (2017), the seventh short film from writer-director Matthew Mahler, is a wholly unique, thought-provoking and brilliantly realized meditation on grief. Yet, it is as much about religious guilt, shame and the all-encompassing hopes of redemption which arise with theology. As a matter of fact, most of the sparse words spoken in the entirety of the twelve minute and forty-six second runtime are from unseen spiritual individuals. All of whom cry out from inside the television set to our lead, William (in a mesmerizing and quietly compelling turn from Timothy J. Cox). They angrily exercise the foremost element. In so doing, they almost immediately prompt William to run outside and engage in actions which suggest the last two latter stated emotions. Whether this is a symbol of the unquestioning fidelity or the apparently easy manipulation of the devout is left to the viewer. There is an equal balance of circumstances throughout the piece that could support both belief systems. Likewise, the non-judgmental tone Mahler crafts here, especially when dealing with such a touchy subject, certainly assists the piece. This is in evoking its continually haunting and meditative resonance.
What also helps is the underlying tension. This is erected most readily in a repeated sequence which involves law enforcement phoning William. Once this erupts, a certain darkness settles over the proceedings. This is as the audience begins to comprehend why he may be going through the previously stated catalogue of inward impressions. It also makes us understand how the pious personalities that are shouting at him have such swift control over his dealings.
The successfulness of these ingredients is a courtesy of Mahler’s deft, carefully constructed screenplay and same said direction. They perfectly compliment the material. What enhances this aspect is the inclusion of moments of sheer style. For instance, a spellbindly done sequence has William looking up the steps towards the closed door of his bedroom. The way it is shot, with Mahler’s ardently energetic music punctuating the bit with an electric fervor that makes it impossible not to step inside William’s nervousness at the unfurling situation, is reminiscent of what one might find in a classically designed opus of cinematic horror. Yet, there are other clever, smirk-inducing bits. For example, there is a near climactic episode that features William carrying a cross. This is in a manner that is reminiscent of Jesus Christ in the tale of his crucifixion. The item William is holding is arranged with Christmas lights and other season appropriate decorations. Such details suggest a bit of playfulness amid this otherwise somber narrative. These items work immeasurably. They also add to the admirable and well-rounded qualities of the endeavor. This is while finding new ways to augment the representative essence of Mahler’s theme. It also makes for imagery that is as unforgettable as the fiction itself.
Adding to the immersive beauty of the project is Jonathan Giannote’s brooding cinematography. Mahler’s editing is also superb. The exertion also benefits from terrific makeup from Maggie Kurth and Morgan Mahler. Correspondingly, Jack Fitzmaurice’s sound contribution is exceptional.
Produced by 8mm Films, Mahler’s latest is among his most accomplished configurations to date. The brief undergoing is massively entertaining. Still, its lasting impact is undeniable. Best of all, it makes you ponder your own convictions. In turn, you can’t help but wondering if you would go through the same repetitive cycle of reaction that William himself is going through. This is if you were in an equally fateful circumstance. With “To Be Alone”, Mahler has fashioned a mandatory movie-going experience. This is one of the best storytelling fabrications of the year.