In The Forest, a 50-minute short feature by Jo Kennedy, we take a bird’s eye view of nocturnal Melbourne.Ashley (Anita Hegh) suspects her husband of having an affair. When Mike walks out on their 10-year anniversary dinner with indecent haste, her suspicions dissolve into paranoia. She begins calling on members of her family for reassurance, or else confirmation of her worst fears, only to find them preoccupied with domestic dramas of their own. A crow swoops ominously overhead, past the lit windows of the city, allowing us a brief glimpse into the lives and relationships of the people Ashley visits.
Kennedy effectively establishes an unsettling mood, aided by some evocative night shooting. The performances are generally fine, although Tony Martin seemed too intense as Ashley’s philandering brother-in-law. In only a couple of scenes, Julia Blake paints an exceptionally vivid portrait of Ashley’s mother, a woman driven to desperation by years of being taken for granted. That Ashley’s sister treats her the same is almost heartbreaking.
The Forest does not benefit from the urgency of the 50-minute format. Ashley never has time to connect with anyone, so Hegh becomes increasingly overwrought in a vacuum. Frustratingly, Kennedy and co-writer Christine Rogers never more than hint at the nature of, and reasons for, Mike’s betrayal.
Ashley’s situation should drive the overall story, but the characters we meet through her seem more focused and compelling than she is. It’s an unfortunate case of the filmmakers losing sight of the big picture for the small, missing the forest for the trees.If the 50th Sydney Film Festival were a restaurant, The Forest is a late night salad supper and a glass of red wine.