Cassie is a creatively ambitious art student with a big exhibition deadline on the horizon. But she’s having difficulty working, what with critical instructors and her own anxiety getting in her way. Her sister is also overprotective of Cassie’s medical condition, policing her medication and controlling her social life.
But when Cassie has a seizure after a stressful day in class, something about her has changed: her drawing hand has developed a will and power to act on its own. Cassie struggles with her new “condition,” but as her hand begins to exhibit a boldness Cassie hasn’t shown in her life and art, Cassie must learn to embrace herself or continue to struggle.
Directed by Joseph Simmons from a script co-written with Damien Knightley, this short psychological drama has a premise that would fit easily in a body horror narrative. But it elevates it to the level of metaphor, using it to explore a young woman’s drive to become an artist, as well as how her creativity is intertwined with her agency — or lack of it — in her life.
The writing layers many aspects of Cassie’s psychological landscape, from her older sister’s controlling approach to her friend’s seemingly selfless concern to the exacting instructor that Cassie must please to get ahead in her quest to become an artist. All these layers are deftly woven together, making up a complex character study of a girl often powerless in her own life, and treated as such by the people around her. Like the somber, muted colors and cinematography of the film, Cassie’s world is restrained and repressed.
When her hand begins to act of its own accord, though, something shifts in Cassie. Cassie’s hand creates art that is bold in line and gesture, and often a direct reflection of the emotions that she’s long held at bay. It also begins to exert its own will in Cassie’s life. Actor Iona Champian plays this almost supernatural element with great subtlety. Cassie’s own “relationship” to her painting hand starts with horror, but then it develops into fascination and even trust. And when her hand takes decisive action beyond the canvas, Cassie has learned to accept this part of her, transforming many of her relationships, her art and even her life.
With steady, solid storytelling and a psychologically penetrating approach to its fascinating premise, “From Scratch” tracks a journey from passivity to self-determination, capturing how autonomy, self-acceptance and self-expression are all intertwined with one another. We often hear about “finding our voice,” and Cassie herself has found hers by the film’s end. But that begins with accepting who we are, and believing that what we have to say matters in the first place.