S For Sally (Short Film)

5 Nov

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Melanie Addington’s “S For Sally” is an unsettling short film about a mother who is concerned about her daughter Sally’s disturbing behavior. How disturbing? In an opening scene, she stands in the doorway to Sally’s bedroom, shocked by the things Sally says when she plays with her dolls. “You’ll have to die like the others,” she says. “They should all die.”

Sally’s mother, Mona (Jennifer Pierce Mathus), has good reason to be unnerved by her daughter’s behavior. (As do we, for that matter—that was a quite upsetting opening scene.) But weirdly enough, what’s more disturbing is how Mona’s husband, Phil (Rhes Low), reacts to Mona’s expressive thoughts. “Something is very wrong with our little girl,” she tells him. How does he respond? He’s bitter and cold, as if he’s heard this many times before (at one point, he tells her, “We’ve been through this”).

What person acts like this? What does he know about it? Does he notice it as much as Mona does? And what about Sally’s school teacher whom Mona and Phil talk with at a parent-teacher conference? She seems as calm as Phil, bringing Mona to reveal Sally’s behavior, only to have the teacher say in order to comfort her, “It’s not the school that can help.” It’s even more unsettling when the reverend Mona visits isn’t much help either.

There’s a consistently creepy tone throughout “S for Sally” that makes the film both unsettling and convincing. It’s effectively done and well-made, making the unnerving moments in this film even more so. There’s hardly a way of knowing exactly what’s going on in this family’s life until the film reaches its twist ending. Yes, there is a twist ending here, and to my surprise (without giving anything away), it worked for me. It made me want to analyze what I’d just seen in the last 12 minutes, and so I watched the film again; the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated the film.

We’re as confused as Mona about what’s going on here, and since we follow her throughout the course of this 12-minute film, I’m obligated to talk about the performance. To start with, I really like Jennifer Pierce Mathus as an actress. I’ve admired her in side roles in short films such as Daniel Campbell’s “Antiquities” (already reviewed by me) and Christy Ward’s UCA thesis film, “tree.” She has a true presence that can’t be forced. It’s nice to see her in a leading role such as this. She’s excellent here as this concerned mother, not once striking a false note.

With a suitably dark tone, skillful direction by Melanie Addington, and a standout performance by Jennifer Pierce Mathus, “S For Sally” is an effectively unsettling short film.

NOTE: The film can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/76911811

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