Abigail Culwell, John Charles Meyer, Norma Maldonado, Jenn Fee, Kelly Lett
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Every once in awhile, I stumble across a short film that leaves me completely and utterly enchanted with a previously unknown actor or actress. It's as if, perhaps, I'm feeling privileged to get a glimpse of an up-and-coming performer.
Abigail Culwell, lead actress in writer/director Amir Masud's compelling short film Affliction, is such an actress. In the film, Culwell portrays Sara, a mentally unbalanced girl who suddenly finds herself gifted with supernatural powers. While she clearly enjoys this newly developed sense of power, Sara struggles with guilt over the unintended harm these powers inevitably seem to cause those around her.
In the short span of the film's 15-minute running time, Culwell creates a complex, richly developed and mesmerizing character with this young woman who may be totally nuts, totally possessed or totally inspired. Culwell never gives anything away, embodying Sara with such bold splashes of light and dark that it's impossible to not be just blown away by her performance. Culwell, who won the award for Best First-Time Director at 2009's Santa Monica Film Festival for her short film Mercy, has appeared in several other shorts along with appearances in 2011 on television's Assassins and Law & Order: LA.
Of course, it does help to have a solid script to work from and Masud's intelligent and involving script weaves its way quickly yet patiently through trauma, mental illness, religious themes and the fine line between good and evil. It's a delicate balance, and it's an impressive achievement to make it all work within the film's brief running time.
Affliction has already played at multiple festivals including LA Shorts, Vegas Independent Film Festival and Durango Independent Film Festival (where it picked up prizes!). While there are fleeting moments where the film's low-budget nature is evident, Culwell's performance is so on the mark that one barely notices the relatively minor production issues.
Culwell is also surrounded by a solid supporting cast, most notably Norma Maldonado as Dr. Chalmers, a woman tasked with trying to help this young woman who may not want to be helped. The lensing by Roman Zenz is impressive, especially when the camera is focused almost exclusively on the seemingly fractured mind of Sara. Meagen Lee's production design is equally impressive.
Affliction is continuing on the film festival circuit. Fans of supernatural/psychological dramas will find much to love about this film that grabs your attention quickly and never lets go.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic