By Shaun James Grant | Drama
A couple on a road trip stops at a diner in the middle of nowhere.

A couple is on a trip across the countryside in the last hours of the night. Their ride is full of silences, with each occupant in the car lost in their thoughts.

The pair pull into a diner in the early hours of the morning. But taking a break from their ominous journey doesn't give them a reprieve. Instead, it forces them to confront the loss that has driven them to the road to begin with.

Directed by Shaun James Grant from a script co-written by Luke Shenton Sharp, this meditative, thoughtful short drama begins in a profoundly quiet way. Through thoughtful visuals and a strong sense of observation, the film creates a powerful atmosphere and sets up an emotional mystery: who are these people, why are they on this trip and where are they going?

The film quietly commands attention by holding back: minimal dialogue and haunting sound design create a vacuum for the beautifully sculpted images and editing to build an atmosphere of isolation and loneliness. There's a weariness to the characters that is highlighted by the taut sense of quiet. And as the story first unfurls in the dark of night, viewers get a sense of a dark undertow to the quietly claustrophobic images, which are often shrouded and obscured in shadows.

Actors Jane Dowden and Yann Gael offer portrayals that are less performances than haunting embodiments of their characters. They play the pair with a palpable connection despite their silence, as two people having parallel but separate experiences alongside one another.

Gael's character reveals a deep struggle and frustration in his private moments, while Dowden seems deeply preoccupied. As their time in the diner wears on and we see her reaction to the other diners, it dawns on the audience just what the pair are going through. The woman isn't just tired -- she's facing a dire loss, one that is never far from the surface of her consciousness. When the pain of her predicament finally breaks through, it also creates the crack that allows for the couple to connect, and a small, fragile hope to break through.

With elegant minimalism in execution and deep respect for its audience, "Hope" succeeds in building a narrative mystery, one that requires patience and rewards with a profound release. The answers are revealed, but they are arrived at with an enigmatic subtlety that sidesteps melodrama on the way to a heart-rending realization. The film becomes a meditation on the ache of parenthood and how someone always remains a parent after having a child, no matter what. Even when that child is gone, that bond never ends -- ensuring a parent will never give up hope, even when the odds look bleak.

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