Travis is an estranged father taking his two kids — teenager Kaela and her younger brother Max — on a camping trip for the weekend to spend some much-needed time with them. Since separating from their mother, he has been avoiding spending time with them but he wants to reconnect.
What is supposed to be a peaceful natural excursion, though, is more fraught than he intended. Kaela is resentful and dismissive of his efforts, ignoring him for her phone. And then there is the matter of a strange presence in the woods… one that asserts itself just when the family seems furthest apart.
Written by Theresa Hedges and directed by Adam Spinks, this short weaves a beautifully observed, sensitive family drama with the uneasiness and slow dread of a horror film, exploring the tensions between parents and children in a broken family dynamic.
The storytelling has a sharp, clear eye for the way that tension and uneasiness simmer under surfaces, from the silences between people to the sinister hum of wind in the air. From the beauty of the cinematography to the emphasis of the performances on the unspoken and unexpressed, almost all aspects of the film bear the quality of patience, sculpting each moment and story beat with great care and letting them unfold masterfully.
The pacing makes for a slow burn in the progression of the narrative, taking the time to painstakingly establish the dynamics of the family, starting with a strained exchange of the kids where the looks between parents say more than any number of words could. The drive to the campsite is equally full of tension, and the iciness between father and daughter shows no sign of thawing, even as Max and his father begin to address the breach in their relationship.
Actor Adrian Annis as the father balances competing currents of shame, hopefulness and love, especially as he attempts to connect with his children, who are played with subtlety and intelligence by actors Kyla Heselton and Nathan Horrod. The story slowly leaves clues and weaves an increasingly disquieting atmosphere around this family unit. When both familial tension and the hidden threat come out into the open, father and children must come together to escape it.
The horror aspect of “The Encounter at Boundless” clearly leaves enough room for viewers to remain curious about. But the short still feels like a complete story on its own, thanks to the deep emotional investment it’s created for viewers, bringing together the broken pieces of a once intact family unit in a satisfying way. They have to connect, or else fall prey to a much scarier threat. Their reconciliation is beautiful to watch, and we come to root for Travis and his kids. So it is all the more disquieting when a larger threat seems to emerge at the story’s end, darkening this hard-won healing and leaving viewers wanting more of an intriguing, beautifully crafted world.