Dead Susan

By Scar Ward | Drama
A troubled girl sees a counselor about a best friend's death. The truth is frightening.

Elaine has just lost her friend Susan, who has just drowned. But she begins seeing a new grief counselor at her school, who she connects with, though she spends much of her time with him drawing.

But as they talk more, he guided her through the process of reckoning with Susan's death. But he soon reveals that he's a little too good at his job -- and that she’s not the only one who knows what happened to Susan.

Written and directed by Scar Ward, this short mystery thriller has the look of a naturalistic slice-of-life narrative, capturing the small, ordinary world of its young protagonist. But as it unfolds, it reveals itself to be more like a dark fairy tale about the borders between childhood and what lies beyond.

The storytelling toggles between two settings: the lake where Elaine and Susan played together before Susan drowned, and the office where Elaine meets with the grief counselor at her school. The two are woven together in a skillful balance of pacing and editing, unraveling both the complexity of young female friendship, the mystery of Susan's death and how it affects Elaine afterward.

Much of the narrative propulsion comes from the buildup of a relationship between Elaine and her counselor. At first, he seems accepting and understanding and lets her miss class to draw during their sessions. Played with great gravitas by actor Miles Richardson, the counselor has an air of crisp authority, indulging Elaine at first with a knowingness. But slowly he begins to probe Elaine, though she dodges his inquiries with an innocent diffidence.

Their eventual confrontation is the culmination of the story, building up to reveal a full account of Elaine's character. But the counselor achieves this from an unusually penetrating understanding of Elaine and her actions -- a knowledge he wields with mercilessness to shatter the fortress that Elaine has built around herself and the truth. In doing so, she must reckon with the death of her best friend, in all its ugly truth.

By the time we arrive at its conclusion, "Dead Susan" reveals itself not just to be a mystery, but a portrait of the end of childhood innocence, ending with an understanding of how our actions create consequences. As a snapshot of Elaine's mind and psyche -- and what makes the story fascinating -- Elaine not only understands the consequences of her actions in the world, but she understands how they shape her character and very self. The end of childhood isn't just the tarnishing of innocence, but the birth of conscience, often in the form of weighty, heavy guilt that follows you, no matter how much you pretend it's not there.

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