Kyra is a young musician with great potential, on the verge of another career triumph. She prepares intensely for her next performance, but on stage at an important concert, one of the strings of her cello comes loose, leading to a panic attack.
After that incident, Kyra is plagued with horrible stage fright and anxiety that proves a great hindrance to her burgeoning career. Kyra does everything possible to get herself back on track, but she makes some choices that threaten not just her career, but her well-being.
Writer-director Charlotte Scott-Wilson’s dark, tense psychological drama captivates with its sharply observed portrait of fear and anxiety, set in the highly competitive world of classical music. This is a milieu in which human weakness and vulnerability is stigmatized as a sign of inferiority, making Kyra’s dilemma all the more difficult to navigate and adding a layer of shame and guilt to her struggles.
The film is directed with an elegance and sensitivity, rendering Kyra’s world with polished, even sumptuous lighting and camerawork. But underneath that fine veneer, there is darkness and struggle, which is beautifully etched with an increasingly use of shadows and an intelligent sound design, which alternates between the beautiful music and a dissonant cacophony that intensifies as Kyra’s struggles become increasingly pronounced.
The film’s visual refinement, becomes almost noirish in feel, attuned to Kyra’s growing desperation. Lead performer Charlie Chan Dagelet offers a masterful, emotionally complex performance that confidently anchors the film within her subjectivity and gives it its tense, visceral momentum.
The writing does great justice to delineating Kyra’s crisis and downward spiral. Kyra resorts to using a common but often furtive solution to many other musicians’ problems with stage fright, which allows her to function but also dulls the exquisite sensitivity that makes her a stunning musician. But eventually that solution stops working as well, leading Kyra to spiral downward, until she reaches a breaking point.
“Hold On,” which won best narrative short at Tribeca Film Festival, is a compelling, complex portrait of stage fright, as well as a realistic portrayal of living with panic attacks and extreme anxiety. Though the film’s world of classical music is rarified, the questions it poses about how we deal with difficult human emotions is a universal one.
Why do we deny them or try to obliterate them? Why can’t we acknowledge of face them with honesty and compassion instead of stigma? And what is the price paid when we force those who suffer to do so in silence and shame? Upon the film’s powerful ending, those questions will echo in its viewers’ minds, haunting them like a stunning, unforgettable melody.