Eli has recently experienced a devastating event: he’s lost his young son. At odds with himself and lost in grief, he rattles around the house, paralyzed and unable to deal with the fallout.
But in the midst of his breakdown, he receives some inspiration and begins to make an unusual, whimsical ode to his departed son. But as it comes to its fullest fruition, it bears an unexpected consequence.
Filmmaking duo Rebecca Kahn and Abhishek Prasad, this horror short is a dark, unexpected examination of grief, sadness and isolation, tinged with black humor and whimsy. Patiently and meticulously constructed from a stripped-down and disciplined script, it takes dark psychological themes, wraps them within an unexpected visual treatment and then upends the expectations it painstakingly builds up with a genuinely shocking ending.
It is a profoundly quiet film in many ways, starting with the studied, distant visual style. The visual language captures a sense of alienation, beginning with its reliance on mostly wide, almost abstract shorts, keeping viewers at arms’ length at first as the camera observes Eli in his grief.
The images and pacing, as well as the relative lack of dialogue, is almost chilly at first, but captures something essential about how we experience tragedy as outsiders — fascinated, but at a distance. The tone, too, captures the way grief can make us feel removed from the world — and it’s certainly how Eli feels, as he deals with his unimaginable loss.
Yet when he seems to receive a sign, he begins to conceive of an ode or memorial to his son. It’s seemingly a colorful and charming one, which introduces a visual lightness and whimsy to the short. As the audience observes Eli at work, the images are so powerful that we feel aloft with hope and optimism. But Eli’s ode to his son is deceptively joyful in its evocation of innocence, lightness and happiness.
The ending of “Uplift” not only renders the film’s title ironic but deepens the film’s meaning from an observation of grief into a powerful, impactful portrait of depression. The short may not have supernatural creatures or any of the usual signifiers of horror films, but its dark, malevolent force is one deeply embedded in modern life. It has the ability to hide in broad daylight and disguise its true darkness with the hopes and wishes of those watching from the outside. But when it emerges, it’s truly horrifying.