Aftermath, a film that I had the good fortune of being able to see early, is the best short film of 2019 so far. It is a surprisingly important, reflexive and tender look at one of the biggest problems currently in America, school shootings. Note that, whilst working in this territory, it is almost too easy to slip into silly territory, and so few films about school shootings work, so seeing a short directed by someone as young as director Daniel Gonzalez only makes this more impressive.
Of course, the film does hearken back to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, an intertextual reference that has become borderline inevitable within the genre, however, those moments of recognition don’t come with the typical feeling of having seen the film before, more the idea of taking Van Sant’s film and expanding on it in some ways, looking more at the titular aftermath rather than the lead-up to the event.
And it is there that the film really shines and comes into it’s own. The key scene, the shooting, is a breathtakingly frightening one, one with sound design that gives sweaty palms and performances so convincing that it feels as if you are with the characters in one of the scariest situations imaginable, but it is really the scenes about what leads up to and comes after the shooting that really guide the audience to seeing what Gonzales wants to add to the conversation, and it goes far beyond wanting to make a film on such a touchy topic just to make it difficult to criticise, Gonzales definitely has things to say here, as he has shown with his other films, too.
The first chapter (the film is split into four), Prologue, delicately introduces us to the characters and the situation, using so little dialogue and so many subtle audiovisual cues that it is difficult not to be impressed at the efficiency of the filmmaking, and quickly develops the tone through the absolutely gorgeous black and white cinematography (which has a stunning amount of patience, making the slightest camera movement stand out wonderfully) and the claustrophobic aspect ratio. This subtle claustrophobic feeling is only added to by the often very close-up shots, which give great detail without saying a word to the point that a second watch is, in fact, very worthwhile, even redeeming.
The performances across the board are also surprisingly invested, the small cast seem to give every role their all, especially Damon McKinnis, the seemingly innocent teenager who gradually reveals himself as the film goes along, and Sonja Kovacevic, the recently hired school psychologist asked to check in on McKinnis’ Devin.
The use of this black and white shooting style may seem gimmicky at first, used to do nothing more than set the tone and push the tragic ideologies that the film pushes for throughout the majority of its runtime, however, towards the end of the film, one can really notice that Gonzalez and cinematographer Cooper Lichacz have thought deeply about each shot, particularly the lighting, which gives some of the most beautiful black and white cinematography in recent memory, particularly towards the end, with some shots having some terrific use of chiaroscuro lighting that it almost feels like the spirit of Frederick Elmes has found its way onto the set.
Add to that the terrific sound design, which is used very carefully to add detail to the story without ever giving too much away, and you have a great film, and that is forgetting the great editing, which creates some very harsh cuts and some surprisingly tender ones, constantly aiding the emotion of the story rather than taking away from it.
Gonzalez is really on a roll, already. At such a young age, and only three films into his filmography, it is almost too easy to list off the ridiculous amount of potential he has as a filmmaker, so all that can be said is keep your eyes on Gonzalez and don’t take them off. You might just miss the birth of one of the best up and coming directors around.