A young father, Ian, is on the road, speeding down the highway and trying to talk to his wife on the phone. Recently separated from her, he feels he’s being unfairly kept away from his newborn son Colin. And he’s now taking matters into his own hands.
But when he finally gets his wife on the phone, alliances will shift and feelings will change as new information emerges during the course of the conversation.
Directed by David M. Helman and written by Nathaniel David Shriver, Naysayer features an intense performance by “Walking Dead” actor Steven Yeun, who holds the screen on his own with compelling agitation and intensity.
Playing a father struggling to be a part of his son’s life, Yeun brings the initial emotional dilemma of the film to life with conviction, and each story beat adds a layer of complexity to our understanding of him and his motives. He works beautifully off of a voice performance by actress Alanna Masterson, who manages to convey a rich spectrum of feeling and realization without appearing onscreen. Character and situation are rendered through excellent and precise dialogue, which masterfully controls the information available to the viewer, while deepening our engagement with Ian as a character.
Visually, “Naysayer” is a road movie, with Ian on the run as he travels through the rich yet desolate desert landscape, a small speck on a vast expanse. The moving landscape adds to the visual dynamism of the short, while also underscoring Ian’s isolation and desperation. As the film slowly darkens — and the sound design ratchets the intensity with a baby’s increased wailing in the background — so does the audience’s understanding of what’s really going on with Ian.
Using a gracefully executed, emotionally devastating sleight-of-hand, the final twist is heart-wrenching, both for Ian as he confronts the meaning of his actions and for the audience, who gets the whole picture of what is happening, and why. Revealing itself in the end as an emotional mystery, it begs for a re-watching of the short — and shows how things are never as they entirely seem, especially in domestic conflicts, though it can be easy to make it seem so.