Director: Adina Istrate
Watch Adina Istrate online: Vimeo
Every Sunday, we review a short film available online. We call it Short Film Sunday.
In order to remember, you first need to forget. That’s the philosophy behind Terminally Happy, a moving, intriguing new short film.
It takes ambition to pack a high-concept sci-fi into a 15-minute tale, but writer and director Adina Istrate isn’t lacking in that department, cramming her short with lingering ideas and unanswered questions. In no time at all, she creates a believable world where a plague of suicides is moving across society, and one scientist is attempting to create an opiate will tackle the depression.
We drop in as Louis (Alistair Mackenzie) is readying his final experiment on himself, while trying to find room to spend time with his son, Oscar (William Stagg). Oscar, though, needs to get ready for school, something that his mum, Evie (Emma Campbell-Jones), is trying to arrange. It’s a domestic environment that rings instantly true, with both Campbell-Jones (frustrated) and Mackenzie (calm, but fragile) selling the mild discord of a married couple going about the business of everyday life – and the awkward friction between two parents, one of whom suddenly has time to play family instead of focus on work.
Stagg, too, has convincing chemistry with the two adults, one that sells the warmth and intimacy of the complete family unit. Istrate contrasts that with cool cinematography, portraying the sincere ensemble with a blue-tinted, clinical detachment – the whole thing is accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack, driven by an eerie ringing in your eyes.
That juxtaposition proves to be the heart of the whole piece, as Istrate delicately cuts from one exchange to another, less clinical conversation, which raises questions of trauma, memory, reunions and farewells. In a world where adults are disappearing, and teachers are hanging themselves, Louis’ work hopes if not to cure the epidemic, then to make it more bearable. Was his test a success? What will it mean for the wider population? All these big themes and questions dissolve with precision in a poignant, thought-provoking cocktail.