Lost Face Review
Lost Face is a 2017 short film about a man facing a long and painful demise at the hands of those he once enslaved unless he can find a way to escape.
Beginning in the aftermath of a fight we do not see, there is jarring moment of violence before the first words are spoken in Sean Meehan‘s Lost Face, a very well made and beautifully shot short film set in the snowbound woods of mid-1800s America. This single, brutal, authentic image resonants with great purpose as it frames everything that follows, shaping not only what motivates every character after but our own considerations of what is happening.
Based on a Jack London story, it sees two Russian fur thieves all that remain of an uprising from the Native Americans they have enslaved at their fort, people obviously mistreated with great disregard. Now it is their turn, and on the ground is Big Ivan (Sheldon Maxwell), having been tortured by the men, left to the even more ferocious women, strewn about him the flayed body parts of all the other members of the fort. Save one. Watching this, bound and on his knees is Subienkow (Martin Dubreuil), who in turn is eyed by Makamuk (Gerald Auger) and Yakaga (Morris Birdyellowhead), the male leaders of this clan, waiting patiently to turn their savagery on him. What lies ahead is nothing but unnatural and prolonged agony unless he can find a way to outwit these vengeful warriors.
Having some working knowledge of London’s short story might be beneficial in getting through this remarkably faithful adaptation of his work, though it is far from necessary. While most characters are unnamed in the film and the circumstances of what is happening is left unexplained, all that is needed in understanding the outcome is here, and with little ambiguity to what drives each. Meehan challenges us as viewers to piece together the narrative but ultimately, what’s important is the larger themes at play. The dialogue is nearly word-for-word from London’s story, slowly unraveling what the doomed man’s plan is, and as the exchange between he and Makamuk continue, we wonder at its angle.
Sheehan wears a number of hats here, including cinematography, which is where Lost Face truly sells us most. Filmed on location, it is a gorgeously gruesome setting in a small clearing in the dense trees. The attention to detail is striking with a cast of authentic Native Americans in proper dress and speaking their native language, all of which makes this small film seem much larger than it is. Clearly, authenticity is at the heart of Meehan’s debut film. What’s more though, is the unnerving tension he builds using the visuals at the start to stir great unease as the almost playful banter progresses afterward. There is deception at play, we certainly suspect, and Meehan is careful to reveal its secrets with the deftness of a magician’s hand. This is a smart, gripping, and very satisfying film.
Lost Face, having won a number of international festival awards, is currently in consideration for an Oscar nomination.
Lost Face Review
Director(s): Sean Meehan
Actor(s): Gerald Auger, Daryl Benson, Morris Birdyellowhead
Genre: Short, Drama