A young 11-year-old boy named Sam is playing with his friend outside in the snow when he accidentally knocks her unconscious.
Overwhelmed and seemingly ashamed, he leaves her to go back to his home, where he is essentially the head of household after the death of his father. Sam is burdened with caring for his brother and himself, since his mom is rendered immobile by her overwhelming grief.
But as a storm comes into the area, Sam decides to head back to help his friend, only to find her gone. His policeman uncle comes by his home, seemingly on the trail of the now missing girl, and Sam finds himself in a situation that just may be too much for him.
Writer-director Alex Murawski’s short drama is an exceptionally well-composed, quiet film, with a very lean script and dialogue and precise yet unadorned cameralwork and cinematography. The story, however, begins in dramatic fashion, setting up the question of whether or not the girl will be saved — and whether Sam will reckon with the consequences of his action.
But as the film proceeds, it also becomes something else: a character study of a child who is burdened too soon and too heavily with responsibility, and the toll that growing up before their time exacts on children who are forced to act like adults. There is no maudlin emotion, though, thanks to a stripped-down storytelling approach to an emotionally complex story. The snow-covered setting also emphasizes the film’s sense of isolation and severity, as does the documentary-like camerawork.
Sam is played with stoicism and great weight by young performer Landon Edwards, who matter-of-factly takes on his responsibility with a sense of stoicism and strength. Yet we can see flickers of the child that he still is, as well as the great, unexpressed sadness he feels — and yet can’t quite voice — in his life.
The tough, unsentimental performance — and the clear-eyed, precise storytelling it serves — ably portrays both the great resilience that children have in even the most difficult circumstances, but also their tremendous vulnerability and innocence. Both dimensions co-exist in the story, which only amplifies the quiet heartbreak of Sam’s life.
“Snow” may seem almost minimalistic in execution, with its pared down dialogue and its unadorned sound design. But it mines rich emotional territory as it takes us through Sam’s world. Though at moments bleak, it ends with a gentle, well-earned grace note that hinges on the recognition that a child, no matter how capable or strong, is still a child still in need of guidance, nurturing and care. Sam gets a moment of this grace when he’s seen for what he is — a child who has taken on too much — and gets understanding and compassion, even in the middle of this tough, cold, snow-covered world.