Student Short Film Review: “unlucky.”

Our deputy film editor interviews Oxford student filmmaker Thalia Kent-Egan about her latest work and offers her own account of the film.

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“unlucky.”, by Thalia Kent-Egan, is a film that, in the span of 20 minutes or so, and in the confines of a single room, carries the viewer on a melodramatic and absurd journey – escalating slowly, and then all at once. I myself, after only having watched the first half of the film, had assumed that I’d gotten the gist of it and could predict what would happen next; I was tragically wrong. Although employing sparse dialogue and one main actress (with a few small appearances from others towards the end), “unlucky.” left me feeling unsettled and unnerved, which I suppose was the intention.

In conversation with Kent-Egan, who is a fourth year student at Queens College, she told me that this is in fact her debut film; her interest in filmmaking grew after having worked in film production companies in Paris and Berlin while studying abroad last year, and she adds that she is now applying to film schools. She noted that the actors in the film are all students, found via auditions. “It was quite funny,” she added, “because we had loads of people message us saying ‘Oh we want to audition’, and we had this long list … and over the course of a week, like 3 people got ill, one girl got hit by a car, and the other girl just didn’t turn up.” Although one may take this as a bad omen, it does fit quite well with the themes of luck and misfortune explored throughout the film.

Produced by Eddie Tolmie, with cinematography by Cai Richards, the film centers on the seemingly typical morning of Cassandra Jones (played by Hannah Taylor), which veers horribly off course. It begins with Jones waking up to her phone alarm going off; picking up her phone, she declares to nobody in particular: “It will be fine. I promise.” Upon first watch, the viewer may be confused as to whom she is speaking, or what exactly she is promising; but as Kent-Egan explains, “It’s just the idea that she’s really alone and it’s quite funny how alone she is.” One must assume that Jones is making a voice memo of sorts; a stand-in for the support that she is lacking.

Jones eventually rises out of bed, opening the blinds to reveal the daylight outside, and viewers find themselves privy to her small room, sparsely decorated save for a few posters on the wall, Bowie and Ranier Werner Fassbinder (a hint towards Kent-Egan’s favorite director). As Jones lays her outfit for the day out on the ground, the viewer may suppose that the narrative portrayed here is no more than a young girl’s morning routine. And indeed it may seem so, as we watch Jones perform such quotidian tasks as getting dressed and putting cream on her face.

A turning point in the film comes when Jones rips open a pack of apples and they tumble to the floor inadvertently killing a spider. Filmed from the level of the spider itself, we see Jones poke at the dead insect with an almost gruesome delight; from this angle, other details come to light as well, such as the hole in her socks from which her toes peek through. Discarding the spider out the window, Jones hurriedly makes her bed and sits at her desk in front of her laptop, appearing nervous and twitchy.

When a video call comes through, we realize that there is some sort of Skype interview happening; Jones, startled by the incoming call, chokes on her water – a foreshadowing of sorts.

The interviewer, a Ms. Josephine Jacobi (played by Emilka Cieslak), looks eerily proper and stiff, sporting a blue cardigan. She apologizes for her cough, stating that she is a bit ill. Her exchange with Jones is exceedingly awkward, with Jacobi waiting just a moment too long to pose her questions to Jones while she takes bites of a croissant. At a certain point, Jacobi begins coughing, choking on her croissant – one cannot help but laugh at the absurdity of the moment as Jones struggles with how to help this figure who is at once proximate and impossibly far, trapped in a computer screen; “Just breath, take it slow!” she stutters. 

However, all humor is lost when one realizes that things have taken a turn for the grim; the interviewer goes silent and her head falls to the desk. Jones begins to panic, growing visibly hysterical. She phones for help to be sent to the home of Ms. Jacobi, but in her moment of hysteria, trips upon a rogue apple on the floor. As we see the interviewer being aided through the video call on the computer screen, one cannot help but to see the macabre irony in Cassandra’s own demise; and when the video call is cut short, we realize that Cassandra is now truly unreachable, trapped in her own alternate reality, where interviews end in death and apples become weapons of destruction. And although it is an absurd reality, it is gruesome nonetheless. 

“I had the idea for a Skype call going really badly wrong for a long time, actually because of my year abroad,” Kent-Egan explains. “I had lots and lots of Skype interviews for jobs, and some went so badly. And just the whole idea of a Skype interview is quite awkward … It’s really hard to feel like you’re getting the right thing across in a Skype interview because you can only see such a small part of everything.” And perhaps what a Skype interview embodies most is that line between humor and humiliation. Humor, in particular, is something Kent-Egan wanted to make sure came through.

“I did really want to get the humor across, and I still do think it’s quite funny that she dies in the end, in a very cruel way,” says Kent-Egan. Indeed, the film is almost difficult to watch due to the conflicting emotions the viewer holds towards the protagonist: should I be laughing or should I be feeling for this person? However, it is that sense of unsettlement that makes “unlucky.” so compelling. And unlike her Greek mythological namesake, that disregarded prophet of disaster, Cassandra’s life ends in a manner she could never have prophesied; she was just unlucky.

[The film can be viewed at this link: https://vimeo.com/377389480?fbclid=IwAR2nMwGBqKWVe1i2g_P9ouGd3ppCBcbCIeGdOW1L2-_7J8YkyE4NV3plMts]