Angelfish

By Dane McCusker | Drama
A young man invites a drunk girl home to see his angelfish.

After a night out at a bar, drinking and flirting in a friendly, competitive way, Patrick invites Claire back to his flat to see his angelfish. With their banter and ease, they clearly enjoy one another’s company.

But then Patrick makes a move, Claire attempts to defuse the situation, and soon the evening turns ugly, as their assumptions unravel about what’s expected out of whom and why.

Writer-director Dane McCusker’s incendiary, sharply trenchant short drama enters the cinematic landscape during the era of #MeToo, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and the Brock Turner trial at Stanford, making it unusually topical in an industry where projects, even on the smaller scale, often require months or even years to plan and then execute.

But with emotionally intelligent writing and unvarnished yet precise performances, the film avoids a “ripped from the headlines” feeling. The storytelling is emotionally attuned to both characters’ feelings and thoughts, taking care to chart both their connection and friendliness at the beginning with genuine rapport.

But it is also forensically precise on how Patrick’s inability to read Claire’s refusals to go along with his agenda and how his efforts to move ahead escalate and transform their dynamic from flirty to fraught. Actors Georgia Wilkinson-Derums and Adam Sollis play each beat of their characters’ respective arcs with honesty and even vulnerability.

Both characters are genuinely hurt and bewildered by what happens between them, but Patrick is also armored with certain beliefs about women, courtship, romance and sex, and when these come to the surface, the interaction becomes intensely combative and even dangerous in feel.

The emotionally attuned camerawork does deft work in capturing the micro-currents of emotions that underlie the dialogue, showing how cracks in the surface on both sides can suddenly widen into almost unbridgeable chasms. When Patrick and Claire realize the wide divide that their different ideas about sex and expectation has created between them, it’s already too late, and the central dramatic tension becomes whether or not their situation will escalate into something dangerous. When Claire finally makes clear her anger and refusal, ideas and beliefs come out into the open, exposed for all their ugliness.

At the film’s denouement, McCusker makes the interesting decision to stay with Patrick, who must wrestle with not just the blow-up itself, but the difficult emotional terrain that has come to the surface. It’s a moment that’s both compassionate in its honesty and devastatingly clear-eyed, as Patrick’s self-conception of himself — and the ideas he carries about sex and women — unravel.

Does he take the moment to examine his assumptions and question the role they’ve played in the situation that has just transpired? Does this prove a moment of reckoning for him? The answers are unclear, and the film’s ending is ambiguous and ultimately disquieting — for Patrick, for the culture at large and for our overall capacity to change.




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