One of the more exciting forums for the best available short films is the film festival circuit. Here we have brand new visions from vibrant, young filmmakers riding the wave of enthusiasm that comes with a freshly completed project ready to be unleashed upon the world.

Looking to conquer the 2016/2017 festival circuit is Bristol-based production company, Shunk Films, who are preparing to unleash their most recent short film ‘A Girl and Her Gun’. Headed by cousins and producers Sam Dawe and Paul Holbrook, Shunk Films have a solid history in comedy with their short film anthology ‘The Wrinklefist Files’ but now turn their attention to hard drama with this ambitious and arresting short film.

‘A Girl and Her Gun’ follows a neglected 12 year-old girl, struggling to cope in the aftermath of her father’s death. Her mother takes every opportunity to get rid of her while she has dalliances with the local hard man and she silently endures constant torture at the hands of school bullies. The girl’s only escape from this miserable world, is watching old western films, where she marvels at the exploits of gunslingers and anti-heroes. In reality the girl must deal with the bleakness and cruelty that seems to lurk around every corner, until she stumbles upon her father’s old gun.

There are several stylistic nods to the traditional western genre throughout the film, especially during the film’s opening, but Dawe and Holbrook (who double as co-directors), ultimately do not allow their homages to stray into outright satire or parody. Instead they utilise these western references to subtly reflect the girl’s state of mind. The moments that she submerges into her western fantasies to protect herself from the unrelenting misery of her reality are as visually intriguing as they are heart-wrenchingly tragic.

Paul Holbook’s script offers up a world of villains that we would love to see fall at the hands of a mysterious gunslinger, from school bullies to abusive boyfriends. But to his credit, Holbrook opts not to apply cowboy justice to these very deserving villains instead working towards a nuanced but no less impactful resolution.

The crown jewel of this film, however is the performance of its lead, Matilda Randall. Her emersion into a role that requires innocence and emotional vulnerability as well as steely determination, while speaking not one line of dialogue for the majority of the film is nothing short of outstanding. The film opens with the girl at her dying father’s bedside, hanging onto the last shred of kindness that she is likely to experience in her life. The pain behind her eyes is there for all to see, even as she simultaneously buries that pain as deep as she can, knowing that she is now surrounded by people who will use that pain against her. With those silent moments she sets the tone for her performance for the rest of the film, peppering it with brief moments of wonder as she watches classic movie moments starring Jack Palance and Lee Van Cleef.

Additional credit must also be given to Laura Bayston as Carol, the girl’s mother, whose vile selfishness makes for an antagonist who brings real weight to the evil that surrounds the main character. Of all of the terrible people and circumstances that confront the film’s protagonist, Bayston’s Carol is by far the worst. Her brilliant and stunning turn sells a character so evil that she would have sex with a man in front of her child, while the father of that child lies dying in hospital. Carol’s utter disdain for the burden to her life that her daughter represents is shocking, but to Bayston’s credit not overplayed, as it could easily have been.

The council estate setting and the detailed eye of cinematographer Sam Morgan-Moore, brilliantly capture the texture and grit of the environment in which the girl is forced to live.

While the film takes the risk of running too long with an 18-minute duration, Dawe and Holbrook wisely use the opening shots of the film to hook the audience with arresting imagery that slowly reveals character, tone and brutality. Several other key moments in the film are also captured with the same intimate detail that keeps the viewer engaged in the world of the girl right up to the end.

Ultimately ‘A Girl and Her Gun’ is a layered portrait of a troubled and tormented life handled with visual skill, artistic flair and emotional sensitivity. This is a short film we expect to make waves on the festival circuit and certainly one to keep an eye out for.

Click here to find out more about Shunk Films.

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