The Damned

By Fred Cavender | Sci-Fi
A group of people go through their daily lives, in a city surrounded by a massive wall.

A group of people living in a mysteriously walled-off city go about their daily lives.

Lucas and Polly are neighbors who have slowly developed a connection over time and finally get the courage to have dinner together. September is a rebellious teen chafing at the prospect of a life cut off from the rest of the world. Carter sells digital windows but wants something more in life.

But on this day, these small, quiet lives will be interrupted forever, as the presence of the world outside the wall makes itself heard.

Writer-director Fred Cavender’s dystopian sci-fi drama is a small, panoramic portrait of what it means to exist in a constrained world: to love, fight and experience longing as a human being when you know that the possibilities on the horizon are already limited.

The storytelling is equally invested in both the humanistic and apocalyptic. Visually immersive, the film opens with a cinematically stunning wide shot of the city itself, with the tall wall looming over it, in a style that wouldn’t be out of place in a Christopher Nolan film.

It’s a great shot, tantalizing and framing the scenes to come, which focus on a set of characters who are simply trying to go about their lives, building connections and finding meaning within their ordinary lives. The cast of actors mostly all focus on the quotidian moments of life, and are often touching in their vulnerabilities and longings. With just a few looks and gestures, Lucas and Polly convey the hope they bring to their romantic tete-a-tete, while Carter’s weariness with life subtly pulls at the chipper, professional facade he puts on with his customers.

What’s remarkable is how few of their characters talk about the wall itself, or the circumstances that caused it to be built, slowly building up a mystery. Instead, most seem resigned to the way it has shaped life, whether it’s the constant darkness of the shade or the paltry number of foods that the city residents can eat. Only rebellious teen September seems to chafe at it, and her open confrontation with the border near the film’s end reveals the wall’s true nature, in a remarkably sweeping set of images.

“The Damned” is an intriguingly slow burn of a short, offering up a chilling collective portrait of how lives are curtailed when their social and political realities are closed off as well. Visually and narratively ambitious, it crams a feature’s worth of material into its short runtime, and some viewers may long for a deeper dive into their stories. But it is always keyed in on how humans will always long for meaning, adventure and connection — even in the most dire of circumstances. This focus lends poignancy in a genre that sometimes neglects emotional intimacy for special effects — and a sense of tragedy at the film’s doomed end.

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