Commander Sam

By Liam Fouracre | Drama
A young girl dreams of being in space. So her father turns his van into a spaceship.

Sam is a little girl who dreams of being in space. She and her father Neil play an elaborate game of astronaut, and their world is surrounded by space-inspired creation. Even her father's work van has been "converted" into a spaceship, which Sam commands as her own vessel, leading her into flights of imaginative fancy.

But one night, Neil drives to his work at an airport in Sam's "spaceship," and a usually peaceful night turns chaotic when Sam finds herself in a perilous situation. The danger shatters Sam's cocoon of innocence and safety, shifting the relationship with her father.

Written and directed by Liam Fouracre, this poignant short family drama captures the innocence of childhood, with storytelling anchored in the imagination of its titular character. Sam is a young girl with a rich fascination with outer space, which is an inner world that permeates her outer one with the help of her loving, hard-working father Neil.

Similar to how children's attention is more focused on the immediate present, the storytelling grounds us in Sam's private world, with its whimsical sense of play and magic, and we are right with her as she "takes off" on her adventure. The story takes time to develop her character, emotions and relationships, excelling at capturing the lovely, hermetic way children can create entire realms in their imagination. The sound design -- combining space command audio and a quirky electronic score -- also keeps us immersed in Sam's imagination, even as we see the prosaic reality that it's transformed from.

The action is rendered with luminous, natural cinematography and handheld camerawork that gives an earthy grounding to the fanciful flourishes of the film. But sometimes Sam's fancied and the tough realities of real life collide, and in Sam's case, almost literally, when an accident at Neil's work happens. Sam and the van she's made her own are in the crosshairs, and Sam must take quick action to avoid disaster, even though she is a little girl.

Young actor Drew Hodgson beautifully captures both Sam's innocence and innate intelligence, so it's easy to believe that Sam is as resourceful and quick-thinking as she needs to be to deal with the situation she finds herself in. At a key moment, she is lost in fantasy altogether -- as envisioned by an animated sequence -- and her ability to imagine may just pull her through. But despite Sam's capability and toughness, she's still very much a child, and the incident still leaves this particularly tight, compact family unit shaken from the impact.

Shimmering with tenderness and a homespun magic, Commander Sam" ends on a note of relief, and a poignant, classic image of a protective parent and a tired, sleepy child. The film is a sweet portrait of a child's loving, imaginative von with her father, but it's also a snapshot of a moment where crisis and disaster were averted. And judging from Neil's regretful look at the end, a cautionary tale that despite their maturity, self-sufficiency and adaptability, children are still children in the end, in all their innocence and vulnerability.

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