Review by Camden Ferrell
Murmur had its premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI Discovery Prize. This docufiction serves as the feature length directorial debut of Heather Young. While the movie can burn a bit too slow at times, its minimalist style and execution effectively tell its emotional story.
This movie follows Donna, a woman coming off of a DWI conviction, who participates in community service at an animal shelter. There, she meets and takes home an old dog who is scheduled to be euthanized. As time goes on, we see Donna take in more animals, slowly getting in over her head. This is a premise that works very well due to how simple it is. It’s also a thematically rich story with many layers.
Young’s script focuses on a lot of visual storytelling. It doesn’t rely on an abundance of exposition or dialogue to convey the subtext of the protagonist’s actions. Whenever the script uses dialogue, it always feels authentic and natural. It’s very reminiscent of what we experience in our daily lives, and this gives the film a more grounded feeling, and it ultimately succeeds in telling its story.
This film is led by newcomer Shan MacDonald. She delivers a powerful and steady performance as Donna. Her performance never feels melodramatic or staged. She succeeds wonderfully in portraying the bleak reality of isolation and addiction all while showing the more humanizing aspects of love and connection. It’s a juggling act that is maintained fairly well from start to finish, and it’s a very impressive debut for MacDonald.
The film’s strongest aspect is its cinematography. Jeffery Wheaton brilliantly uses a static camera throughout to capture the realism of each scene. He frames each shot in such a unique way that is oddly beautiful and effective. It’s a strangely alluring hybrid of bleakness and beauty that is extremely sobering.
This film beautifully tells the story of a woman who feels alienated, and the animals that fill a void in her life. Young beautifully captures the innate connection that we feel with animals, and she portrays it in a way that is highly empathetic. It’s undoubtedly adorable, but it also lends itself to moments of solemnity and bittersweet affliction that will resonate with the audience.
One of the few downsides of this movie is some of the limitations of its minimalism. It’s a short movie, but there are moments that can really drag on, and it sometimes disrupts a steady and natural flow that the film typically has. Regardless, this movie more than makes up for it with its rich themes and practical execution.
Murmur is a deeply human movie that overcomes its pace with a heavy dose of emotion and empathy. It bites off a lot of thematic weight and finds a way to juggle it all within its short runtime. This is a bold and impressive feature film debut for Young, and it suggests a bright and promising future for her.
Murmur is screening at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.