Dark, brooding and suffused with a languid malevolence, “Layla” – the debut short film from the JumpCutUK crew is a fascinating foray into film making.
While the official synopsis is slightly coy (‘Trapped and mistreated by her oppressive captor, Layla longs to escape and enjoy the freedom of the outside world. Will the mysterious woman in red offer Layla everything she wants?’), the film itself embraces a decidedly non-linear, languid, dreamlike approach to storytelling, eschewing dialogue in favour of richly textured visuals and an evocative score by Martin Gratton.
Heavy with imagery, “Layla” rewards repeated viewings and revels in a melancholy ambiguity that challenges the viewer to knit together its narrative threads. Is it all a metaphor for the loss of innocence? An allegorical tone poem on the emotional damage of child or sexual abuse? Layla’s white dress of the opening scene has become incarnadine by the end and the thematic touchstones of innocence and its loss resonate through the piece, mostly overtly when an apple is violently cut from a tree in a twisted Brothers Grimm reimagining of the Biblical story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Foreboding and fantastical, at times it feels like a Satanic reimaging of “Inside Out” while at others – thanks to the melancholy strings and piano and dense symbolism – it’s vaguely evocative of the work of Peter Greenaway.
There’s a real darkness to the piece, and an undeniable power although often that power isn’t quite fully harnessed or under control. Filmed using an iPhone6 and a budget of £200 (most of which I assume went on the props which are destroyed or damaged), the modesty of the production only shows on occasion. While you can fault the ambition or artistic intention, the framing and movement of certain shots sometimes lets it down, obfuscating rather than illuminating but these are minor quibbles for an otherwise impressive and intriguing debut film.