A neglected 12-year-old girl faces down her father’s impending death, leaving her vulnerable to the tensions and threats in her environment.
She’s tormented by bullies at school who grind down any sense of value she has, and she’s woefully overlooked by her guardian at home, leaving her prey to her guardian’s menacing boyfriend.
The girl’s only solace comes from TV, where she watches classic Westerns, which allows her to experience vicariously a sense of dominance and power. But when she finds a gun among her dad’s belongings, movies and real life start to blur in possibly dangerous ways.
Directing team Paul Holbrook and Samuel Dawe’s tense drama combines “kitchen sink” gritty realist British drama with the almost theatrical tensions and silence of the classic Western genre.
The combination of the styles is fascinating, but serves both the story and the main character, who develops a vivid imaginative life to find relief from the depressing financial and emotional poverty of her real life.
The story takes time to set up the unnamed girl’s circumstances, but once the storytelling kicks in, it powers forward, ratcheting up the tension to an almost unbearable point. The short is anchored by a strong main performance by the young lead Matilda Randall, who seethes and suffers, often in silence. She never “indicates” emotion, beautifully underplaying the dark undertows of her grief, sadness and anger. And when they finally bubble up to the surface in the final gripping confrontation, her actions and decisions are soul-crushing, both for her and the audience.
“A Girl And Her Gun” juggles both an audacious aesthetic experiment and heart-wrenching social commentary, posing fascinating questions about the enduring pull of violence and its intersection with social disenfranchisement. The craftsmanship of the film is impeccable, with taut camerawork and excellent acting, but ultimately the main impact of the story is emotional and visceral — and memorable for its devastation.