Iona and Zoe are hanging out, wandering from place to place, and have found themselves in an abandoned lumberyard. They're talking about a conflict that has left Iona with a black eye when they spot a mysterious creature in the distance. To their marvel, what seems like a white horse is a unicorn.
Their curiosity draws them near, and they form an immediate bond with the animal, which is also injured and hurt. But they're not the only ones transfixed by the creature, unlocking a chain of events that challenges their inner courage.
Written and directed by Martin Glegg, this compelling fantasy short has the look and feel of a western, shot with a luminous naturalism suffused with golden light and an eye for striking landscapes. As the two friends discuss Iona's black eye in spare yet evocative dialogue, viewers also get a sense of casual violence imbuing quiet desperate lives.
Even when the landscape reveals the presence of a unicorn, the film's tenor remains raw and natural. There are no flamboyantly special effects, but the beauty of the camerawork and cinematography create a sense of enchantment, which heightens as the two girls bond with the creature. They seem lost in their idyllic world, with a mystery and peace that bestows the film with a halo of loveliness.
But that atmosphere is interrupted by the arrival of a group that wants the unicorn back for themselves. They demand Zoe and Iona turn over the unicorn, but the young women refuse. Actors Julia Sarah Stone and Nahema Ricci both summon the courage to defy the older men, leading the film to its western-style standoff -- and Zoe takes definitive action.
Many fantasy films function on the level of the symbolic, and unicorns themselves are often symbols of innocence, purity of spirit, freedom and healing. In the central conflict of "Unicorn Code," that symbol can work on multiple levels. But with the film's rich visual evocation of the natural world untroubled by the designs of mankind -- and the young girls defying the older men -- the unicorn here questions man's entitlement to exert dominion over others, and perhaps nature itself. The film ends right before what would be a traditional film's final climactic sequence, at the beginning of what promises to be a suspenseful, exciting chase. But it also represents the unicorn and its rider at its most exhilarating and free, unfettered by norms and unified in defiance.