A Stone's Throw

By Luke Wissell | Drama
2 parents must lie to save their teen from prison -- or tell the police the truth.

Isaac and Jo are a couple on the brink: their daughter Hannah has landed in the hospital, unconscious -- and she's possibly the cause of an accident that has left one man dead.

Her parents are at a loss on what to do, especially when the police show up investigating the accident. As they anxiously wait, they wrangle over whether or not they should create a false alibi to protect Hannah from charges of manslaughter, or tell the truth with all its possible consequences.

This short family drama -- directed by Luke Wissell from a script co-written with Ben Crisp -- is compact in scope and structure, and lensed with a similar discipline, with a muted, shadowy look and straightforward camerawork that keeps the focus on excellent writing and performances. The story begins on a note of suspense, as Jo listens to the distraught voicemail from her daughter as she stands on a bridge -- just as police appear to question her about an accident she may or may not have caused. Hannah's probable implication in the accident is part of the dramatic tension that keeps the momentum going, but the narrative uses this uncertainty to take the story in a more psychologically penetrating, intimate direction.

The heart of the film is one scene between two people facing the consequences of their perceived failures as parents. The scene itself is masterfully written, with two distinctive perspectives on their daughter and their approaches to parenting. As the dialogue unfurls, it manages to be specific to this family but also near-universal in its evocation of parenting as a minefield of anxiety and uncertainty.

Actors Patrick Graham and Anna Steen both match one another with nuanced performances that underplay the roiling emotions of their present circumstances. But they both show true vulnerability as they reveal the more deep-seated doubts and sadness, as well as their shared love and commitment. Both don't seem to understand the young woman that their daughter has grown into. Like many teenagers, Hannah is now defiant, withdrawn, secretive and distant. But while one parent has doubled down on strict discipline, the other has become understanding to the point of over-permissiveness. And through that gap, their daughter has slipped into a psychological terrain -- and a possible life-changing event -- they may not be able to rescue her from.

"A Stone's Throw" treads murky moral and ethical waters, but it also asks questions about parental responsibility, and how far parents should go to protect their children. The storytelling does eventually answer the initial question that frames both the story as a whole and the parents' initial discussion. But the reveal also sheds light on a fundamental attitude and assumption held by the parents -- one that might have shaped the situation long before this fateful night. We learn to see ourselves by how our parents see us; how parents talk to us becomes how we talk to ourselves. In short, we sometimes become who our parents believe we are before we can be ourselves. Isaac and Jo get some relief in the end, but they are left with these bigger questions to ponder.

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