There's a simple beauty at work in writer/director Jake Thomas's curious yet delightful Shedding, a recent Freestyle Digital Media release centered around a cat named Panda.
Panda dreams of exploring the outside world, a dream that comes true when he awakens one morning having rather magically transformed into the body of a human being. After exploring this strange new reality, he finds his way outside where he crosses paths with a grieving mother (Karla Droege) and her daughter (Jacquelyn Zook) whom he will help find peace.
It would be easy to try to categorize Shedding, a somewhat experimental film most certainly and a low-budget, iPhone shot indie at times existential in its themes and other times so stunning in its innocence and simplicity that you practically feel immersed in its real world, fantasy-like universe.
The film begins with two apartment-bound cats playfully bantering about to and fro, their pitter-pattering of paws mesmerizing to behold. These are real cats, of course, and captured by Thomas seemingly on their terms.
After all, it's a cat's world. We just live in it.
It isn't that long before Panda's transformation takes place, the awkwardness of this change captured as we watch the cat we had been observing change form into the feline wonder personified by Lex Quarterman (You & Me). Quarterman's performance had me vacillating between childlike ooohs and aaaaahs and practically in tears at the vulnerability in Quarterman's performance as he somehow, realistically captures Panda's curiosity at this most remarkable transformation. It's truly difficult to describe just how wonderful Quarterman is here, avoiding caricature and cutesie and histrionic cat gestures in favor of something that simply must be called the soul of a cat. It's a remarkable performance and a performance that becomes even more remarkable once he encounters the heartachingly wonderful Karla Droege (Big Fish, Red Dawn), whose grief practically oozes from her pores from the moment you see her and the moment you watch her encounter with this being whom she appears to interpret through her lens of grief.
Quarterman and Droege together? Simply wow.
Thomas handles delicately and honestly the complicated grief and conflicts between mother and daughter, the two having been impacted by the death of a son/brother in different yet equally life-altering ways. Jacquelyn Zook (Diary of a Teenage Nobody, Can I Get A Witness Protection?) is tasked with portraying the edgier of the two, yet she provides layers that are fascinating to watch be peeled away as her performance comes alive and her interactions with both mother and Panda continue to reveal themselves.
The film's lensing is handled by Thomas with Erin Brown Thomas and lends the film a normalcy that helps everything to feel natural and true. At times, you practically forget that you're watching a human play a cat as this entire universe simply feels so honest. Justin Norman's visual effects also accomplish great things despite the inherent challenges of low-budget filmmaking.
Picked up by Freestyle Digital Media for a digital/VOD release, Shedding is now available through most of your major streaming platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Fandango, Vudu, GooglePlay, Youtube, XBox and others.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic