The Fan

By Antony Webb | Drama
A man inherits a pedestal fan from his late mother -- that comes to life.

Daniel leads a lonely humdrum life, living in an apartment in an unnamed city. When disaster strikes, he's completely alone, left with the detritus of his home and ruined possessions.

But Daniel's loneliness gets a reprieve when a pedestal fan that once belonged to his late mother comes to life. The unlikely pair begin a warm, companionable relationship that gives Daniel comfort and genuine connection. But as the seasons roll by and summer passes, Daniel and his fan soon find their dynamic shifting to unpredictable places.

Written by Ben Sutton (who stars as Daniel) and directed by Antony Webb, this short fantasy drama brings a whimsical conceit to life with conviction and surprising emotional depth. Neatly eschewing naturalism and told in burnished, stylized cinematography that's equal parts steampunk and Old Hollywood, it creates a charming little idyll within a troubled outside world. But both viewers and characters will discover that things are more emotionally complicated, and that sunny charm soon turns shadowy.

The idea of endowing an inanimate object with life is nothing new, but even with its short runtime, the storytelling fleshes out a full personality and character arc for the fan, cleverly using movement and sound like a puppet to bring it to life. Playful, naive, curious and strong-willed, the fan is somewhere between playmate and companion for Daniel, and it's sweet to watch them -- via a masterful montage that would be the envy of any rom-com -- develop a real relationship.

But no relationship remains the same, and as the year passes into winter, the fan's constant whir brings a chill between it and Daniel. It's a testament to the writing's character development and the film's excellence in craft -- and to Sutton's guileless performance across the object -- that we feel how forlorn and insecure it becomes as Daniel grows distant from it. Those thornier emotions feed the story's final, more suspenseful movement, as Daniel and the fan must confront the limitations of their relationship.

Ingenuous, engrossing and richly realized, "The Fan" develops such a world of whimsy and charm that its ending registers as dark and unexpected. But that's a testament to how much we've come to care for the characters and their relationship, and how much we root for them to find a way through their crisis. The tragedy at the end could be spun as comic in a certain frame of mind, but even then, it's tinged with a melancholy that life never quite escapes.

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