Anthony Steel reviews University of Manchester graduate Alex Browning’s debut short film
The Sunset Sleeps is the short film debut of University of Manchester graduate Alex Browning. He sent The Mancunion an advance copy of the film for review ahead of its submittal to various film festivals later in the year.
The story depicts the loss of childhood in an idyllic setting that appears to be the West Country. We are presented with breath-taking sceneries that lull you into a tranquil world of comfort and ease. Sleeps tells the story of three friends, two of which are enamoured with each other. They are all young adults yet roam the fields like children- playing hide and seek and appearing innocent in nature. This exaggerated feeling of the youth faces us with the reality of growing up. In the beautiful opening shot the camera flies over fields of golden wheat, accompanied by the sound of wind, nature and relaxingly ambient music. In the midst of these delicious aesthetics, we are presented with cuts to the couple sitting under the trees and reading together. All the while, a voiceover summarises the dying fate of the sun. The peaceful visuals incongruously coupled with the factually based narrative bring out the film’s message: the transition into adulthood is a troubled yet exciting point in our lives.
The first-time director shows promising skills in film-making with his establishing shots of the fields as well as the stylised moments of visual metaphors and cinematography. However, things go slightly awry during the scene between the three friends. Here, the shots are just a tad awkward. The framing, particularly over “third-wheel” Blake, creates uncomfortable angles. In addition, the point-of-view shots of John were slightly off-putting. Whether intentional or not, they alienated you from his character. It also created an uneasy balance as to who was meant to be the main focus, especially alongside the critically dominant gaze of his girlfriend. The editing here also lacks the clarity and precision that is presented elsewhere in the film.
Nonetheless, the film effectively eases us back into its dreamlike montage of the lovers spending their last few days of romance together before “the sun goes down”. When the game of hide-and-seek begins, the film rolls back into a more professional quality with amazing crane shots and fluid transitions. One particularly great moment was close-up shot of the lovers’ held hands; although somewhat conventional it still proved effective as classic romantic imagery. Even more pleasing was the way in which the wheat gently brushed against them. All the while, Blake commences the countdown, signifying the impending end to the lovers’ relationship. Here’s where the editing works really well. Ranging from unusually pleasing blurs to hazy dissolves; it soothingly portrayed the lovers last moments together yet, thankfully, doesn’t edge into what could’ve been cheesy and melodramatic storytelling. Close-ups, dissolves, the music and the endlessly stunning vistas feed the eyes throughout and immerse us into the films complicated yet beautiful world.
Despite the minor blip in the middle, Alex Browning provides capability in filmmaking and direction. There are clear signs here of cinematic skill and understanding as well as a talent in visualising the beauty that surrounds us and incorporating it into well accustomed themes. Browning is currently working on another project How It All Ends which I based on the standard of filming he has shown so far, is sure to be worth a watch. The Sunset Sleeps will be a worthy contender at upcoming festivals for independently made shorts such as this. It is sweet, simple and a positive onset for the freelance director’s work.