Proverb says the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but perhaps there are multiple routes — some less scenic than others — that lead to “the bad place”. In the post-apocalyptic short film Narrow, a woman is forced to walk a long and narrow path from which she dare not stray. During the walk, she’s harassed and harangued by shadowy spirits that seem dead set on getting her to crack so they can drag her down to wherever they came from. This film, part of Fantasia’s “Born of Woman” series, is short on time but has plenty high-concept content. Anna Chazelle, a French-American actor and sister of Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle, shows that competent and capable filmmaking must run in their family’s blood.
In Narrow, in which Chazelle stars as Sloane, the landscape is barren and desolate. Whatever destruction has befallen this world appears recent but puts obstacles in Sloane’s path as she deals with literal and figurative fallout as well as demons of the past. The film gives little explanation about its setting, and about who may or may not be dead in its deserted countryside. Regardless of the lack of worldbuilding, the murky narrative includes enough psychological turmoil to maintain suspense.
The cinematography and editing deftly capture Sloane’s frantic mental state, combining handheld point-of-view footage of Sloane hiking with jumpy quick cuts to her drinking water, taking notes, and trying to keep it together. The figures lurking by the roadside are ominously still, and Sloane creeps past them slowly, warily; she tries her best to avert her eyes and cover her ears to drown out the echoing voices, but cannot wall them out completely. There is an almost mythological feeling to her journey — as if she were Orpheus, trying her best not to look back or look around. We don’t quite know what to make of these specters, but they are undeniably creepy.
Eventually, she encounters a man, Rhys (Matthew Gallenstein), implied to be a former lover, who confronts her for abandoning him; the tension in the air is thick and suffocating as he screams at her. We don’t know the details, but Sloane is clearly haunted by guilt. She may have outlived whatever initial disaster took place here, but now carries a heavy burden as a survivor. Her lonely journey builds tension with each step, though it could have built up the world a little more, too — it might have been helpful for the audience to be able to see just a bit more about the nature of the apocalypse. Instead, we have no idea whether the world ended with a bang, a whimper, or something else still to come, or what menace and moral decay lurks within the realm Sloane finds herself in.
This seems to be a story about alternate realms, the different paths life could take us on, and the guilt of choosing one over another — one that only partially fleshes out its full form and themes. But Narrow stands as a strong proof of concept and could potentially serve as the foundation for a full-length feature. Chazalle’s performance is solid, and although not stylistically innovative, her direction pulls us in with our desire to learn more. While Narrow might play things a bit safe, Chazelle shows promise as an emerging directorial voice.