There's something brilliantly mad about writer/director Rick Gawel's The Mockingbird, a disturbing yet compelling and thought-provoking 41-minute short centered around two sisters and the potentially devastating impact that can quickly rise to the surface when one feels threatened by a lifetime of commitment.
Gawel, an indie director out of Chicago, has crafted a visually arresting film that tells the story of Madelyn (Rebecca Steer) and Evelyn (Melissa Malan). The two are sisters who have grown up forced to rely on another following the sudden death of their mother and abandonment by their father. Evelyn, the eldest of the two, has always been the responsible and caregiving one who ensured her sister's well-being. Just as she's about to be able to live life more freely, however, Evelyn is in a tragic car accident and paralyzed from the neck down. Thrust into the role of caregiver, Madelyn's already fragile being is pushed to its limits as it quickly becomes apparent that she definitely didn't acquire her sister's caregiving gene.
The Mockingbird is a jarring film, the third film in Gawel's "tortured girl" trilogy and if the other two films half as powerful as this one then it's quite the trilogy. While there's a linear story that exists here, Gawel isn't content nor lazy enough to stick to such a simple method of storytelling when he can go full-on bonkers by creating a powerful story and characters through story, visuals, sound and silence.
Melissa Malan is a jewel here as she covers a range from maternal to madness with equal zest. Her chemistry, as awkward as it is to be here, with Rebecca Steer is the glue that helps to hold the film together and make it so convincing. It helps that Steer herself is also quite compelling in the more expressive of the two leading roles. Among the supporting roles, Steve Ruppel and Dave McNulty especially shine.
While the actors are quite strong, it's also quite possible that the real star of the film is the camera work of both Gawel and Tony Colon. Filmed in darker tones with anxiety-inducing frames and unforgettable imagery, the camera creates quite moments of intimacy when necessary and then, without notice, shots that elicit gasps from their absolute boldness.
The Mockingbird is a production from Herbivore Productions, a Chicago based indie production company with a tendency to involve the themes of madness, self destruction or cooking in their works. While I'm not familiar with their work, The Mockingbird ensures that I will become so.