Short film review: Promise (2018)
Ivan Radford | On 19, Aug 2018
Director: Nev Pierce
Watch Promise online: Vimeo
On Sundays, we review a short film available online. We call it Short Film Sunday.
“Please don’t torture yourself. It’s not your fault.” That’s the sound of a struggling couple comforting each other, as they try to have a child – unsuccessfully. It’s also the sound of Genesis 16 being brought into the modern day, in the form of short film Promise. Sounds, like old stories, can echo, distort and change over time – and what can be heard as a reassuring comfort at first can become something much darker in a matter of minutes, or days.
Written by Hannah Lee, the short follows Sarah (Rebecca Callard) and Abe (Nabil Elouahabi), as they land upon a desperate measure to be able to have a baby: they bring Syrian refugee Hajar (Lara Sawalha) into their home, under the agreement that they will provide her shelter in exchange for her being their surrogate. It’s not a million miles from the original Bible story, which saw childless Sarai give Egyptian slave Hagar to her husband to bear him offspring, resulting in a clear line between people who take their life goals into their own hands and those who patiently trust things will happen when they are meant to. And sure enough, there’s a similar lesson here, as the rush to exploit a situation, to take advantage of social disadvantage and racial inequality, turns sour.
Nev Pierce directs the story with an intimacy that never strays into intrusion. Like his other shorts, Bricks, Ghosted and Lock In, he teases sensitive performances from his cast, with Callard finding sympathy and repulsion in her drastic deeds, and Nabil Elouahabi bringing a nuanced ambiguity to a husband keen to do the right thing, even as boundaries are blurred. Between them, Sawalha is a likeable, innocent foil, stoking distrust through sincerity alone.
“It’s not your fault,” we hear, as things spiral into a brutal act that’s borne of middle-class privilege as well as maternal impatience; even the inconceivable, we discover, can be conceived given the right circumstances. And just like a Bible story passing across generations to find fresh political pertinence, those four words resonate in a new light as the film draws to a quiet close – like a gentle heartbeat of potential life echoed by a buzzing phone that’s never answered.