Smith’s verdict: Tanner Smith reviews Allison Hogue’s Still LifeJune 15, 2012
Note from the monkey: This is the first in a series of reviews of shorts presented at the recent Little Rock Film Festival by filmmaker Tanner Smith.
By Tanner Smith
“You ever feel like this place is just sinkin’ into the ground? I do everything I can to try to hang on to the edge of this hole, waitin’ on somebody to reach down and pull me out. But everybody that’s pulled me out’s down here with me.” –Line of dialogue from Still Life
Still Life is a touching, effective drama about a man who feels like he’s hit rock bottom and has to rely on his community to get everything on track. The man’s name is Daniel (Lynnsee Provence). He’s a widower who has just lost his job and has trouble making ends meet for him and his six-year-old son named Jack (Luke Ferguson).
The film is pretty much just about a day in which Daniel seeks work, guidance, and help. It takes place in the Arkansas Delta, which, from someone who has grown up in Northeast Arkansas (namely me), is an environment that makes you feel surrounded/trapped by everything around you because there’s something empty and yet at the same time something peaceful presenting itself. That’s how Daniel and many of the people he’s acquainted with, whom we meet as the film progresses, feel. Some are used to it; others are too busy thinking about more for themselves and their families to feel anything but resentment. Still Life shows a great portrait of that. It’s also effective in how it shows its supporting characters—Daniel’s sister-in-law Bethany (Raeden Greer) who sometimes looks after Jack while also dealing with a rough relationship (there’s a revealing moment when Daniel asks her to leave and she snaps, saying there’s nowhere else to go); Daniel’s old buddy (Terence Rose) and his wife (Jahquis Bailey) who are there for him but aren’t the best people to talk about tragedy; even Daniel’s landlady (Fran Austin) looks like there’s something missing in her life, judging from her emotionless face as she smokes a cigarette and asks for Daniel’s rent.
The film is the graduate thesis film of Allison Hogue, writer and director of the film, for the University of Central Arkansas Digital Filmmaking Master of Fine Arts Program. Hogue made last year’s Hitchhiker, a well-executed fantasy-mystery short. With Still Life, it’s her chance to tell a story more based upon reality. Hogue is a gifted filmmaker who succeeds at showing everything she was obviously getting across, and in a subtle way, too—not just exposition explaining exactly how everything went wrong. We can piece things together with almost every scene as the film progresses. Some things are obvious, but most aren’t shoved in your face.
Still Life opens and ends with quotations from Mark Twain—one from “Tom Sawyer,” the other from “Huckleberry Finn.” The first quote sets the tone for the movie—particularly the main character’s feeling of emptiness. The second one appears after an ending that is just right for the film. It doesn’t simply show that everything gets resolved. It’s merely hinted at. It tells us that life goes on and there will always be a way to deal with it.
Still Life ran for almost twenty-nine minutes. Considering some of the short films I’ve seen at the Little Rock Film Festival, where this was shown, it’s saying something when I say at no point was I checking my phone for the time. That’s the sign of a film that has you invested from beginning to end…and a film about life, at that.
Smith’s Verdict: ★★★★