Fugue (Steven Adam Renkovish, 2017) – Review

You can view the film here – https://vimeo.com/211762380

From its chilling opening shot which seems to burn itself onto the screen rather than merely occupy it, it becomes clear that Fugue is a film about confronting the audience and focusing intently on audience reception/thought. The contrast between light and dark is instantly quite arresting, the eerie figure at the centre of the frame is foggy and difficult to see – let’s just say it certainly sets the stage for the subtle chills of what comes after it. 

Fugue is a great example of the kind of low-no budget filmmaking available now. For a quick detour, I’d like to talk a little about that – digital filmmaking has most definitely opened doors for most anyone, and it’s often surprising to see that the majority of people making films by themselves (at least, without a production company) are actually very sombre and great. Coppola’s dream of filmmaking becoming less exclusive (he discusses this towards the end of Hearts of Darkness, the documentary about the behind-the-scenes of Apocalypse Now) seems to have been fully realised, and Fugue is a great example of that power given to more people paying off. Sure, the film industry has become all the more competitive for it, but it has also become more free and inventive than ever before, too. Fugue shows the ability of filmmakers now to collaborate freely, to become frugal and make these great projects on small budgets and that quality isn’t lost because of the lack of a budget. Whilst I don’t think being low budget automatically makes a film good (obviously…), it definitely doesn’t work in the opposite way and make them all poor. 

To get back to talking in more specific terms about Fugue, because I could ramble about the pros of digital filmmaking in piles of books at a time, the film is a reasonably barebones representation of Lilith (played by Brittany Renee Smith), a young woman who has experienced the loss of a loved one and who explains this loss (or, more so the feelings that are a product of said loss) in a kind of fourth wall breaking performance piece that uses its abstract editing (plenty of superimposition and blackout cuts here – I’m partial to both, especially the former, so you can imagine I was in heaven for a little while) to prop up and to add to the dramatic tension. The score, by Arianna Cunningham and David C. Wright, largely consists of prolonged violin notes and is actually quite reminiscent of the beautiful work for Robert Egger’s The VVitch – yes, that does mean it’s good!

Renkovish also makes his presence known in the risks taken with the script and with certain visual flairs added throughout. The visual choice that stood out most to me was the use of an anamorphic lens (I presume, at least) to distance Lilith’s character from the world itself, extending this overwhelming gulf of loneliness that is otherwise created by the terms in her direct to camera monologue (I also feel like having Lilith talk to the camera marks this loneliness further – with no one to talk to, Lilith speaks directly to us, the audience, out of desperation to be heard and to find solace in unburdening herself of her inner thoughts and feelings). The choice to frame loneliness as the root of horror in a short film focused on creating a tense atmosphere works beautifully, and Fugue takes extra points for never pandering to a prestige horror crowd and keeping the focus straight throughout. It’s not exactly a new theme in horror, but the way that it is shown to the audience here does feel refreshing and unique and that’s all that really matters.

The use of fourth wall breaks throughout is great in more ways than the loneliness angle, though. Keeping in mind the eerie atmosphere that most of this film owns, using the fourth wall break to force the audience to feel directly involved with Lilith and, therefore, her feelings makes the film all the more uncomfortable for the audience, which is especially poignant given the fact that everything discussed within the film comes from a very real place. The film is elevated by using the form in this subtle way to make it feel almost like a video log or documentary, adding to the intimacy massively and therefore making the film as a whole more impacting to the audience. It’s a brilliant choice made. Brittany Renee Smith’s performance also definitely helps to sell these emotions – monologues are always difficult, but Fugue’s is particularly demanding and still sold beautifully by its performer. 

Considering that this film is to be expanded into a feature (The Awakening of Lilith, currently in post-production), there’s plenty more to come, too. For such a short film, the impact produced by Renkovish and his crew is strong, and the ideas surrounding it are bound to be relatable to most. These poetic musings on loss and the paranoia that often stems from it are both beautiful and uncomfortable, both in all the right ways.

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