Rocks That Bleed: A short film review (CONTAINS SPOILERS)

How would we really react if the world was about to end? Somehow I doubt we’d saddle up and steal a plane, because what would be the point? What could we do? What good would any of it do? Chances are, we’d sit and wait, and try to pretend it wasn’t happening. That’s what people do. We ignore the inevitable at the cost of not being prepared for it when it comes. Rocks That Bleed, the new film from Bertie Gilbert and Sammy Paul (co-director of the utterly fantastic The Fleeting Little Life of Peter Wright), explores that grim reality. It defies action movie clichés, and even though it’s set during the end of the world, it never feels like an end of the world film. It instead feels much more like a character study that just so happens to be set as the world is saying its final goodbyes.
Rocks that bleed (a title which is either shown in all-caps or all lowercase so I’m never sure which words to capitalise, ta for that Gilbert) is technically an apocalypse film, but the end of the world mostly sticks to the sidelines. What is causing the final end of humanity is only hinted at by excessive heat and the presence of “Here Comes the Sun” at the end. The main focus of the film is instead on its two main characters, Joe and Sidney; they’re brothers, but they’ve not seen each other for a year and a half, Sidney having ignored his brother’s calls and never meeting up with him. Joe comes to Sidney’s house, to spend a final day with him before the Earth’s final day comes around. The two hold awkward and brief conversations, seemingly unable to find the right words to say. They reminisce about Sidney’s seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays, and how much their relationship seemingly changed in the course of one year.
Jack Howard as Joe is a revelation, and I don’t think it would be possible for anyone to act more against type. He’s tired, he’s awkward, and he’s sad-eyed; in other words, the polar opposite to the Jack Howard of the real world. It’s almost as if he’s trying to make himself as un-photogenic as is humanly possible, to do something completely different, and he pulls it off wonderfully. His performance is one of subtleties; he’s a man who has always tried to put a face on things, but now he can’t muster up the strength to do so. He’s broken, and even though he’s with his brother he feels desperately alone. Also, Gilbert’s performance might be the best he’s ever personally done, playing Sidney as a conflicted and insecure individual who hides his emotions behind a seemingly emotionless face.
Some of the themes that the film explores have been explored by some of Gilbert’s prior work, and the biggest similarity in terms of subject matter and tone to me is the very short short film Cosmic Divide, a film that detailed someone waiting and perhaps even dreading their brother’s return after a huge amount of time. Something that the two films definitely share is the amount of audience interpretation they both invite.
Rocks That Bleed is deliberately ambiguous, only providing slight hints about what Sid did in the year and a half he was apart from his family and working with his fellow “arty f*cking pricks”. Chris Kendall appears briefly in Sid’s only flashback for all of one minute and twenty-three seconds (that’s right, I counted) as a figure from Sid’s past, not mentioned before or again. It’s up to the audience to figure out who he is. Joe is a much more open character; his past is much plainer to see, his emotions easier to read. Sidney is a closed book, almost emotionless in tone and in behaviour, and only occasionally does his mask slip and do we see the tortured individual inside.
Something the film touches upon (and something I wish it could have perhaps explored with more depth) is the idea that ultimately Joe and Sidney’s problems don’t matter anymore. The world is ending, and very soon they will vanish without a trace. Their arguments will have been rendered meaningless, their past never to be known by anyone else. They will be gone, and their lives will have gone as well.
The film’s score, composed by Tom Rosenthal (not to be confused with the guy off Friday Night Dinner) is pitch perfect, complimenting each scene brilliantly and always fitting the tone just so. It’s used copiously in the first half, and (in a clever move) is almost completely absent from the second, replaced for the most part with an unsettling ambient roar that reminds the audience that the end is indeed nigh, and that there’s something so much bigger happening outside. A final flourish is an emotional piano-led cover of The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun, providing a darkly comic and deeply tragic tone to the film’s final moments (although I would have also accepted Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House). This is one of the few films where I feel like I need to buy the soundtrack, and I hope it becomes available soon; it’s fantastic in its own right, not just as a backdrop. At some points it almost seems like a third character in the film.
Technically it’s pretty much faultless, with the seemingly omnipresent Ciaran O’Brien outdoing himself once again, juggling both cinematography and colouring and doing both exceptionally well, with the oppressive colour of red dominating the frame in latter portions of the film; not only reflected the chaos outside, but also the chaos inside. Ironically, the rose-tinted flashbacks haven’t got a hint of red in them. The camerawork is assured and Howard’s editing is too.
The film is not always an easy watch. It’s an incredibly sad film, but one with some wonderful moments of both light and dark comedy, and one with wonderfully drawn characters, with Howard’s Joe lightening the mood.
Ultimately though, it almost seems like Joe has lost hope in the last moments of the film. He stares out in space, barely registering what his brother is saying to him. Has he given up? Has he finally realised what is to happen to him? That ultimately, everything that came before him means nothing now, and that there will be no trace of his past for anyone to see? Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s him remembering his wife, who has died a year beforehand; maybe he wishes he can die with her. And there’s Sidney, finally maskless, desperately trying to make up for lost time, desperately trying to find out how his brother is feeling. But it’s too late.
As with anything, there are a few problems here and there. I personally felt that the film’s references to other things felt quite jarring and out of place. While a joke about Joe not getting Spider-Man was funny, it pulled me out of the experience. I didn’t see Joe anymore, I saw Jack Howard, and while a Dean Dobbs cameo was amusing, it had the same effect on me, and I didn’t really see a point. But those are truly the nitpickiest of nitpicks, and honestly I’m at a loss to find any more faults.
Ultimately, Rocks That Bleed is brilliant. There’s really no way of putting it. It looks great, sounds great, and underneath the beautiful presentation is an earnest, heartfelt and deeply moving story of two brothers desperately wishing to go back to the way things used to be as oblivion approaches. While I can’t say that it’s my favourite film by either Gilbert (Grey Area holds that spot on the metaphorical podium) or Paul (the aforementioned Peter Wright holds that place in my cold, icy heart), it’s still a work of art, and a pretty amazing work of art at that, which explores both familiar and uncharted territory for both the directors, and it’s a film that deserves to have its praises sung from the (figurative, or literally if you can be bothered) rooftops. At the time of writing it hasn’t even reached 100,000 views, and considering the sheer amount of time and effort and presentation that went into it, that’s a crime, you hear? A crime that must be rectified. If you haven’t watched it, do so. Like, right now.

ROCKS THAT BLEED is a short film written and directed by Bertie Gilbert and Sammy Paul.
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtUUvQtChNc
Follow its directors on twitter: @ICOEPR and @bertieglbrt
Also watch THE FLEETING LITTLE LIFE OF PETER WRIGHT, a brave short film about depression by Sammy Paul and TimH that quite frankly deserves everyone’s attention: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIO4j4ze8Nc

About the writer:
Charlie McIlwain is a teenage “writer” who clamours for recognition that he really doesn’t deserve. Follow him on Twitter: @ComedicPerson

Journal: A Discussion

Warning: this article contains plot spoilers.


At one point in Journal a character discusses writing a comic book. He’s got the idea in his head, he says, but just is never happy when its down on paper and never wants anyone to see his work until it is in a state he deems satisfactory. He’s been working on it for so long, he says. He’s got the idea in his head, but has no idea how to translate it to paper and has no idea what either the story or the characters will be like. Later on, the character says he’s given up caring about the end product and is just doing it. He doesn’t care if the end result is bad or if nobody likes it (including himself), he’s just gonna buck up and do it.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, let me explain. In the credits of this game, it is stated that Journal has been in development in one form or another for ten years, and only now has it seen the light of day. The credits also state that this game is dedicated to the memory of the father of Richard Perrin. The message is clear: Journal’s designer, programmer and co-writer Richard Perrin (best known for his wonderful solo effort Kairo) has had this concept in his head for years, but has never been able to turn it into a game he’s proud of. But with the death of his father, Perrin finally had a motivation to complete the game. He just wanted to translate his raw emotions, his raw grief and his raw sorrow into lines of code, into gameplay, no matter what the end result ultimately turned out to be. As Perrin himself said in an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun:
“Finishing Kairo at the time when all that was happening was very difficult for me. It’s a game about hope, and I didn’t have much. Kairo shipped the week after my father died. It was the worst period of my life. There was nothing good. Kairo was a situation where it came out and people were like, ‘Oh, you must be so relieved to have it finished!’ But no. It was just numb. This horrible feeling. I had a pretty rough time, and rather than writing angsty poetry or Livejournal posts, I’m trying to focus that into Journal. Trying to share that with an audience.”
Journal has the sense of a game that was made in a hurry, and that might sound like a criticism but in many ways it really isn’t. Perrin’s father died in April 2013, and Journal was released on the 17th of February 2014, and that says it all. Like the character in the game (named Trevor) says, he wanted to finish it as soon as possible just so people can experience it and share their thoughts about it. Polish and perfection took a back seat in favour of just getting it done, just getting those ideas down on paper, just sharing it with an audience. That was Perrin’s ultimate goal. With that one dialogue exchange in Journal that could easily be ignored and has no bearing on the plot’s progression, Perrin opens his heart to the audience, bares his feelings, reveals the truth, if you like. He admits that the game isn’t perfect, but do we ever write eulogies to be entertaining and palatable?
There are problems, some of them easily ignored, some of them not so much. An example of this is in some of the writing, in particular the exchanges between high schoolers. To bring up RPS again, in their review of Journal they compare these exchanges to the Mr Show sketch “No Adults Allowed”. For those who aren’t aware of the contents of that sketch, here’s the rundown: three adults dress up as kids for a “kids only” TV show and talk about how much they “love those damn video games” and think that homework sucks but they’ll realise its importance later on in life. And while this comparison is a little too cruel for my taste, I still most grudgingly admit that the reviewer has a point. Perrin gave this reason as to why he made the game’s protagonist a young girl rather than someone like him:
“The themes I’m trying to deal with – issues of loss and alienation of friends – are universal in life. But the thing about channeling it through a young girl is it allows me to do this progression of dealing with simple mundane things and then scaling upward into increasingly difficult things to deal with. Childhood innocence makes these issues even harder. You can sympathize, too. Seeing anyone struggling is tough, but seeing a child struggling is even harder.”
And that’s an understandable reason for his choice, and I applaud him for it. But at the same time there are downsides. Perrin and his co-writer Melissa Royall sadly don’t have much of a grasp of how teenagers act and talk in high school situations (and this is coming from a high schooler here), and this is made even worse by the fact that the game’s main character complains at one point how adults seem to forget what being a child was like once they grow up. It seems that although they were both once high schoolers, Perrin and Royall don’t really know how to write their conversations. The high school characters (with the exception of the excellently handled Trevor, the aforementioned comic book writer)  feel like caricatures rather than nuanced people, but the writers do try to invite nuance. One character is at the start the main character’s best friend and the game ends with the friendship being terminated, but this character ends up seeming unlikeable and cruel. They are angry at the main character because the main character blamed them for property damage, but the reason why the main character had been in denial has been made clear to her friend from the start. And yet, she ends the friendship. It just doesn’t seem like how a real person would act in that situation.
I may be coming across as overly cruel, and believe me, that is not and never was my intention. I don’t hold any of these flaws against the Locked Door Puzzle team because ultimately I get the feeling the team are aware of these flaws. As I said before, this game is a cry for help, an exercise in channeling one’s grief into an interactive experience. It’s not perfectly handled, it’s not polished and it’s not free of bugs and/or glitches in both sound and in movement. And yet, I can forgive all that because ultimately Journal wasn’t made to be a polished, balanced experience. It was made as a goodbye to the director’s father.
I’ve experienced the crushing feeling of loss before, both through the death of a loved one and through other means. I’ve treated friends and family badly. I’ve been through denial. I’ve said and done things I’m not proud of. Maybe that’s why Journal registered with me. Although throughout my playthrough I noticed flaws, I almost stopped caring as I was in the moment.
It would be very easy for me just to end this post with a simple verdict and a mark out of ten, but that would completely undermine this game for what it is. I don’t think I’d be able to pin a numerical score on this game, because it’s just not that type of game. I don’t care if this game has a 59 score on Metacritic because in my opinion, the number doesn’t matter. Journal isn’t perfect, it is at times trite, and the gameplay isn’t streamlined. But that doesn’t matter. If you want a verdict, here it is:
Journal is a thought-provoking, heartstring-tugging exploration of grief and denial, made even more saddening by its connections to real-life events. Richard Perrin has made a game that really made me pause for thought about life and death. It’s not perfect, but it never could be. Should it be a video game? Should it have been about a young girl? Should the moral choice system be in place? Are the characters too simplistic to make an impact? Perhaps. But I ultimately don’t care that much. You might care. Opinions are subjective, after all. Journal was to me thought provoking, I could see past its flaws. Others might not, though. Regardless, Richard Perrin has finally got this game off his chest, and with it hopefully his sadness will go too. I look forward to whatever Locked Door Puzzle makes in the future, be it a more gameplay-focused experience like Kairo, or a more introspective story-driven experience like Journal.

Journal is available on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/261680/
You can follow Charlie McIlwain on Twitter: @ComedicPerson
Have a lovely day!

Grey Area: A Short Short Film Review

For a while now, I’ve been a great fan of Bertie Gilbert’s filmography. Ever since I saw his first short Stray Dog, I’ve been fascinated by his singular style, and his never less than compelling narratives. I’ve watched and loved all of his recent output, and always been excited for the next one. Grey Area is the most recent film he’s released, and honestly? It’s Gilbert’s best film yet.
First and foremost, the film is completely different to any film he’s made before. Yes, on the surface it may share some similarities with Gilbert’s most recent film Tick Where It Hurts (both because of its more naturalistic nature and the presence of Miles Hall), but really, it’s a different beast.
One night, two best friends named Dexter (Hall) and Charlie (Gilbert) meet up to shoot Charlie’s media project. He pitches it as a film without a plot, apparently because he doesn’t have “the money” for that kind of detail, but as becomes swiftly apparent, it’s most probably because Charlie isn’t as good as he really believes himself to be. Dexter has recently broken up with his girlfriend, and is decidedly cagey about discussing the details of the breakup (even flat-out refusing to say the person’s name), and has come to help out because he believes it’ll help him take his mind off recent events. It doesn’t.
The moment in which I realised that this film was truly fantastic was a few minutes in. Dexter is sat, presumably about to be filmed by Charlie, and starts to talk into the camera. I assumed that this was the scene that he was acting in, before Charlie interrupts his monologue, revealing it to be only his inner thoughts. Not only did this swiftly introduce the film’s main source of exposition (Dexter’s inner discussions), it also showcases both Hall’s talent for acting and Gilbert’s talent for writing.
The film is also a lot funnier than I’d expected it to be (and I won’t ruin the funny bits). Charlie is the most self-deprecating character Gilbert has ever played, as well as the most against-type. The characters he has played in his previous films have all been similar: disillusioned, emotionally scarred loners. Charlie on the other hand is an overly confident, profane and blunt individual, and serves mostly as the film’s comic relief; for the first time, Gilbert is not centrestage. That spot is reserved for Hall instead.
And there’s no better way of putting this: he is brilliant in the part. Gilbert seems to have tailor made the role for him, and it shows. His monologues are deeply compelling, but apart from those, the source of most of the film’s dialogue is Charlie, with most of Hall’s performance being in gestures and facial expressions. If I’ve had one complaint with Gilbert’s films up to TWIH, it’s that Gilbert the director and actor have often overshadowed Gilbert the writer. TWIH showcased more of a balance between the three, and Grey Area carries this on. As a director he coaxes a fantastic performance out of Hall, as an actor he gives his best performance yet, and as a writer he is at his most assured.
The film is utterly brilliant. And I mean that. Does it have flaws? Yes, what film doesn’t? It’s a few minutes too long, and it sometimes feels more like a play than a film, but these are nitpicks. This film is Gilbert’s least derivative (looking at you, Fifty-Six Year Old Boy), and his most assured. It almost feels like all of his films have been leading up to this one.
In short, I really liked it. And you should watch it. Right here in fact:
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQyQcfR1YGc&list=UUZp5j0LWQCT5cO_vhkrW6kA

If my inconsequential ramblings perhaps entertained you, follow me on that there Twitters: @ComedicPerson
Have a nice day!

The Rapture Is Here And You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home: A (Short) Review

The Rapture Is Here And You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home (or the slightly less lengthy TRIHAYWBFRFYH for short) is described by its developer Connor Sherlock as an “open-world Dear Esther”, and an “evil Proteus”. It’s a game that’s equal parts creepy and strangely moving, part homage to the horror writers of old and part interactive art piece. It’s a game I find near impossible to describe, an audiovisual attack on the senses that gripped me from start to finish.
You are given twenty minutes to explore a desolate landscape. After that, the world will cease to exist. There lies in the sky a looming black disc that slowly expands, and if you stare directly at it it lets off an ear-splitting buzz that forces you to look away. Houses lie empty and deserted. Columns of coloured spheres dot the landscape, and if interacted with they play extracts from various novels such as H.P Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu”. The extracts should seem out of place, but they relate to the environment and the objects within it so well that if I wasn’t aware before I may have even thought they were written especially for the game. The voice acting for all these extracts is excellent as well, which is certainly a bonus.
Props must also be given to the haunting soundtrack by the developer that perfectly sets the mood and feel. The sound design consists only of crashes of thunder and the buzzing of the object, but that’s all the game needs. The simplicity is what works.
When I completed TRIHAYWBFRFYH, I felt a bizarre mixture of emotions. I felt confused, disturbed, moved and ultimately amazed. This odd little creation is one of the most curious experiences I’ve ever had with a game, and is something I demand that you try out. You may not like it, and I’ll understand. It’s very odd, and tailors only to the small audience that enjoys the type of gameplay it offers, and it won’t please everybody. And that’s just fine. But at least try it out. It’s free and only twenty minutes long, and who knows, maybe you’ll appreciate those twenty minutes as much as I did.

GAME LINK: http://gamejolt.com/games/other/trihaywbfrfyh/20342/