All These Creatures | Short Film Review
By Vanessa Nim (March 17th, 2019)
Directed by: Charles Williams
Written by: Charles Williams
Produced by: Charles Williams, Elise Trenorden
Key Cast: Yared Scott, Mandela Mathia, Helen Hailu, Melody Demessie
The entanglements of our past are quick to get the best of us. Our minds make incredulous associations that take many of us years to disembody, if we ever do at all. Is there any significance to the events we have connected in our memories? How do we reconcile what we know with what we remember? And where do we find understanding in both? In All These Creatures, director Charles Williams explores this haziness of memory with a haunting, yet wistful stylistic flair.
All These Creatures centres around the relationship between Tempest (Yared Scott), his father, Mal (Mandela Mathai), and Tempest's hazy recollections of his father's unravelling. Taken by possession, mental illness, spiritual disconnect, or perhaps a combination of all three or none at all, Mal becomes lost to what Tempest alludes to as “the creatures inside”. The film is narrated by a future Tempest, who attempts to disentangle the memories and associations he, perhaps unwittingly, made in the chaos and uncertainty of adolescence. In youth, he associated his father's unravelling with the infestation of cicadas in their yard - all these creatures, in the yard, in his father's head, caused an infestation - and to Tempest, this made sense. But in recollection, he begins to question these associations and the comfort of understanding he took from them.
The first half of the film is told through a grainy nostalgia, exploring Tempest's hazy, dark and uncertain memory of his father, that preludes and contrasts the immediacy and factualness of the climatic scene of Mal’s final undoing during the last half. What Tempest knows, the facts of what happened, is juxtaposed sharply against the entanglements of what he remembers through William’s skillful choice of visuals and modes of storytelling.
Tempest's recollections are relayed through intimate visuals of his adolescent world: his mother's face, illuminated by the fire she grew to burn bad thoughts of their father; the coffee pot Mal once beat her with; the cicadas and creatures infesting their yard, and the smoke his father used to try and clear it; Mal yelling something incorherable at the television, at his mother; his father smiling, dancing in the yard. The tableaus are grainy, hazy, and evoke the sense that we are watching a home film so encapsulating we feel we, too, are reliving this distant memory. These scenes carry next to no real dialogue and are instead overlayed by Tempest's narration of a haunting, though somewhat wistful, recount of his father's unravelling.
This personally intimate but faded recollection is then contrasted with the more realistic and immediate climatic scene that follows. When Tempest joins his father in the car ride that eventually leads to Mal's final undoing, the film flips into a crisp, naturally coloured visual landscape. Along with this visual change, the film also adopts a more dialogic mode of storytelling as Mal engages Tempest in conversation. Effectively, what Tempest knows happened in that car ride and what followed it, is preluded by his attempt to piece together what he remembers, his memories of what lead to his father's undoing and his attempts to it all.
In the end, Tempest stands in the yard, amidst the cicadas and creatures overrunning it. “I thought all the bugs that had overrun our yard would go away after that, but they hadn't,” he says. “I had tangled the two in my memories, but maybe they weren't related. Maybe Mal had made the same connections in his mind, trying to make sense of the world and all the different parts inside himself speaking to him from some place unknown.” Reconciling with the entanglements of his past, Tempest eventually sheds the misconnected understanding he created to explain his father's fate and their relationship despite the comfort it brought.
Tempest's disentanglement of his memories and shedding of understanding seems to be an embrace of discomfort; however, in this, All These Creatures also displays a certain comfort in a lack of understanding. Perhaps our memories of the past and the facts of events can never be fully tied together, and perhaps there is no reconciling what we remember, what we feel and what we know, perhaps there is no comfort. But perhaps that's the greatest comfort some memories can hold.
- Vanessa Nim