Clare is waiting in a hotel room, readying to meet a man named Matt for the first time. But she already knows Matt. She discovers that she’s met him online and has been chatting with him for some time.
But Matt has a different agenda: one that will not only upend everything Clare knows about him but change the course of her life.
Written and directed by Margaret McGoldrick, this taut short drama takes a situation right out of a thriller and knuckles down into it with relentless intimacy, boiling it down to its elements of betrayal, trust and love.
The narrative opens with a cryptic tension, as a clock ticks in an otherwise silent room. A woman waits in the coolly impersonal hotel room, the film’s main setting rendered in icy, muted cinematography and lighting. A man strides in with an impatient, brisk air, throwing down papers on a table and then making a phone call. They then have a conversation. It seems simple, but from the beginning, the writing sets up a puzzle, each piece precisely deployed via staccato, tense dialogue to reveal a crucial piece of information.
The dramatic situation slowly clarifies with each beat, but like the best of thrillers and mysteries, each reveal leads to more questions. Likewise, the film’s elegantly severe, almost abstract simplicity in both visuals and dramatic set-up reveals a subtle complexity, from the intricate editing to the byzantine secrets held by both Matt and Clare. And what initially seems like an illicit assignation reveals a dark complexity for its underbelly, with high stakes for both.
Actors Michael Condron and Bronagh McAuley begin the film with simmering tension, capturing the riddle of knowing someone without being familiar with them. The risk of beginning with a high level of drama is that a story can become a draining melodrama. But the filmmaking is too intelligent and disciplined to let that happen, and both performers pattern in flickers of surprise, disappointment, sympathy and vulnerability as their larger story comes together. They’re both able to balance emotion and restraint in the extreme close-ups on their faces, as their facades — both online, and in real life — shatter and their truths are revealed.
As the initial mystery of “Fog” recedes, crystalline suspense builds, and themes of morality, love, personal responsibility and sacrifice come to the core. These crest towards a difficult decision for Clare and a cliffhanger of an ending, where we see how intimacy is weaponized and a woman confronts the situation she’s made for herself. An entire feature could be generated from the story leading up to this moment, making for a top-notch thriller. But the short reckons with something else more relatable — when the weight of all our decisions, large and small, adds up, and we can choose to either shore its foundation up or burn it all down.