Ted Evans’ last film, The End, was an incredible success, winning numerous awards around the world for its depiction of the decline of Deaf culture when a ‘cure’ for deafness is found. Evans went on to direct the film for the Paralympics opening ceremony and this time last year, won Deaffest’s Ben Steiner bursary of £5000 to make his next film.
Retreat, which premiered at the festival on Friday night, is the result. This is a very different film to The End, but facing a high level of expectation after that film, Evans has come good again.
From the opening scene, where a young woman (played by Deaf actress Sophie Stone) discovers an injured hearing man in a forest, there’s a discomforting eeriness about this film. She tells him he should leave, but when he’s discovered by a group of men, he is taken back to what appears to be a commune full of Deaf people.
As the Deaf residents tend to their land, you could be forgiven for thinking this might be some kind of Deaf utopia, but with the arrival of the leader of the commune, you’re forced to think again. The leader, called Rosa, begins questioning the man, who seems bewildered by the world he has found himself in. Rosa is played by Jude Mahon, who gives a phenomenal performance with a subtle intensity that sent a shiver down my spine.
There’s a sense of paranoia here – coupled with a feeling of suffocating control – that is chilling. This is partly because many of the attitudes and behaviours depicted in Retreat can be traced back, albeit in a far less extreme way, to real-life elements of the Deaf experience.
This sense of this being a world out of balance is complimented by a clever sound design and a framing style to the photography that helps convey a sense of emptiness, a space where a real sense of community could be. Sophie Stone is excellent in the lead role, as is Pickles Norman as the injured man. There’s strong support too, from Deaf actors Brian Duffy, David Hay and Adam Bassett.
Retreat is an excellent short film that lingered in my mind for days afterwards (I was lucky enough to see the film in advance). It’s also clever enough to appeal to both hearing and deaf audiences. It’s hard to say more about this without revealing key plot points, but there was one specific moment that took my breath away.
Retreat will have audiences asking a lot of questions, and has an ending that will leave many people wanting more. I hope that this is not the end of the story, because this short film could easily become the perfect starting point for a longer feature film.
By Charlie Swinbourne, Editor
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