Cast: Joe Facer
Director: Joe Facer & Adam Sandy
Synopsis: It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live - Marcus Aurelius
A short film by Joe Facer & Adam Sandy
Alastair Railton Feedback
A very interesting look at the concept of death, loss and isolation. Cradle certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to a hard hitting microshort.
So I will jump straight into my thoughts on several aspects of the film. Firstly, as a story, it is very well written and conceived. A completely dialogue free piece, that really pushes the “show not tell” narrative. Within a very short amount of time, I already want to know, who is this guy? Why is he digging? And what events have led him here? The gradual reveal of him having lost family members and now being alone is revealed at the perfect pace, we are still interested in this character right up until the end of the film. I interpreted the film as depiction of both loss and then eventual decay and death. The Cradle, being death's embrace.
Joe Facer’s performance was convincing and well acted. He really depicted a man at the end of his life and with little to no connections left in this world. His silent portrayal really complemented the acting and directing of this film, clearly able to communicate to the audience a range of emotions.
Cinematography wise, I felt that the shots were well selected for this film. Shots that were purposeful and fit the style of the film. I particularly liked the use of de-saturated colour grading which really added to the overall effect. Whilst not being a film that required a lot of movement in the camera, the choice of static shots were well utilised. The establishing shots were also highly effective at displaying the isolation of the main character. I would have liked to have seen more closeups, to really get into the mind of our silent protagonist, but the wider shots still delivered in their own way. Set design was pretty standard, but for a microshort, these locations were suitable.
The music was a fantastic original score. It really spoke to me, told me how this character felt and merged well with the bleak visual environment. Soft tones, nothing that overpowered the scenes were a solid choice. I did notice several issues around the sound design, particularly some of the coughing and other sound effects felt slightly out of sync which was a little distracting at times.
From the editing point of view, this might have been the weakest part of the film. I felt that some of the shots were drawn out and ran for longer than they should have. Most noticeably was the shot pictured here. I think a much tighter edit could have been done which might have shaved a minute off the runtime and still delivered a fantastic story at a much more fluid pace.
All in all, a great microshort full of exciting potential! I am very excited to see what Joe and Adam will create in the future.
Mark Wisdom Feeback
Despite its 2018 release date, this film is an excellent example of isolation & sadness and you would be forgiven for thinking that it is a product of a Coronavirus lockdown. However, we must remember that loneliness and death are far-reaching issues and that we can encounter them for many reasons. Presented here, is the terrible situation of a man dying, having already lost a loved-one.
First of all, I think the film should be applauded for its success in crafting a compelling narrative, in just over five minutes. It is a difficult task to write a short script that successfully captures themes and emotions and, as many filmmakers know, microshorts heighten that challenge considerably. Cradle’s script/story is one of my favorite ever examples of how to craft a microshort, and is the film’s greatest achievement, in my opinion. It is unclear if there was a written script for this film, but much of this success should be attributed to the story creator, Joe Facer, who also portrayed the film’s protagonist. For example, I think that the decision to forego dialogue was excellent. The story just doesn’t need to be cluttered with words and the film excellently shows us the protagonist’s sadness through the effective use of a child’s drawing.
Showing the child’s mother as an angel is a masterful example of visual storytelling. We immediately know that the child’s mother, presumably the protagonist’s wife or girlfriend, has passed away. However, when we discover that the protagonist character is also dying, we can’t help but feel for him, and also his child who doesn’t even make an appearance. Subsequently, we relate to the protagonist’s sadness as it is implied that he is his child’s sole carer, and that someone must be present to fulfil this role. In short, the drawing is a small creative decision which has such a huge impact. It made me want to hug the protagonist, and even care for their child who I didn’t want to be left alone. Needless to say, I was emotionally invested by the story itself, but I was left unsure if the protagonist has lost all of his loved ones, as implied by a shot of a dog leash.
It’s a well lit shot and, with no dog present, I wonder if the character has lost everything before dying himself. This leads me to wonder if the child is also dead, but there is no answer either way. This could be a strength, as it makes the audience think, or it could be a weakness as it is unclear.
Regardless, Facer’s performance conveys all of the film's messages beautifully and it is perfectly balanced. I could imagine exactly what his character was thinking and I never felt as if I was being told to feel anything, simply to sympathise/empathise. Furthermore, the performance makes efficient use of the scenes that we are given, and I never felt as if I needed any more to fully understand the character’s wants and needs.
One point I would like to raise is the decision of casting and I think the story would have been better served if Facer was a few years older. I am assuming that the film was written to be made by two filmmakers who wanted to tell a compelling story and possibly raise awareness for themselves as filmmakers. Facer himself does a wonderful job in this regard, but I would have believed the narrative even more if the protagonist was a little older, or if the character was more established from a production design point of view. Facer is a youthful looking performer and his character wears quite fashionable Doc Martin shoes.
Interestingly, I feel there was a missed opportunity to emphasise the narrative in other areas of production design. At one stage, we see the protagonist’s right hand shifting on a spade handle after digging.
Unfortunately, this falls slightly flat and drags a little, as it is lingered on but there is no real significance to it, that I can see. The ring finger is prominent but if the hand had been the left we could have seen a wedding ring, or even the lack thereof. This would have been more noteworthy than what is currently presented.
It also presents an overarching problem with shot choice and editing, i.e. we either linger too long on certain shots, or the shots don’t have purpose. Whilst the shots themselves are technically solid, we lose some character definition by not being clear with what the shot is trying to convey. The biggest standout is at the film’s conclusion. The protagonist is lying in the hole he has just dug and proceeds to take out the drawing previously mentioned.
We eventually change to a close-up of the protagonist’s face but the wide lasts for about a minute and a half. Eventually, the shot kills the pace, especially when there are plenty of cutaway opportunities.
Despite this, Cradle has some truly beautiful cinematography. Adam Sandy’s visuals convey the majority of what makes up the film’s tone and their morose nature made me feel the protagonist’s isolation wholeheartedly. The lighting choices cleverly opposed the bleak outdoors with the warming interior locations. It is an effective aid to showcase the trauma swirling inside the protagonist’s mind as he recalls harsh memories.
This combines very well with the score provided by Hamish Dickinson. The dark rhythm was eerie and foreboding. It actually reminded me of the desolation permeating the score of Blade Runner, albeit with more appropriate instruments for Cradle’s countryside location. Together, these elements give a wealth of character to Cradle and should be applauded.
Unfortunately, some post-production decisions undermine these elements. The primary culprit is the coughing sound effect which was obviously added after poor weather affected sound during production. I appreciate the need to try and cover up this issue, but I would question if sound was needed here at all. We can see that the character is coughing and the blood in the protagonist's hand lets us know that it is from a serious illness.
Similarly, the crumpling paper effect is out of sync and probably didn’t need to feature at all as it doesn't add to the film. Contrastingly, I think the digging sound effect was an okay inclusion but it is also slightly out of time in parts. These elements are Cradle’s nemesis but could be fixed with some straightforward tweaking.
To summarise, Cradle is a heartfelt, thought-provoking, film with brave creative choices and a clear tone. Nevertheless, all aspects of a film must come together to craft the story and, whilst there are many features which do this beautifully, there could have been improvements in some areas. Still, when you consider the absolute lack of budget, and the obvious passion attached to this project, you can forgive some of the film’s faults and focus on what is a stunningly good narrative. Well done to the team!
Adam Sandy Feedback
For context, Adam was the cinematographer for this film. However, he is approaching this feedback from a neutral standpoint, as if he had no involvement in the project.
To start, the overall impact of the visuals and tone work nicely for me. The bleak green colours of the leaves and the characters coat work to drag the mood into a solemn place, assisting Joe Facer’s minimalist and impactful portrayal of a man at the end of the line. In the exterior shots, the green of the world almost swallows him up and the score really helps in creating a soaring ambience of dread and concern for what the character is dealing with. The score also acts as the dialogue, which works very effectively and allows Facer room to embody the character in a physical way.
However, I would have liked to see a bit more detail in the dark areas of the wide exteriors, pictured below.
Whilst the darkness is a strong theme, it’s difficult to see what is happening within the shot so more information in the shadows would assist the viewer in understanding the story and justify those shots being included in the film. As it stands currently, they don’t pull their weight narratively but I think it would be an easy fix. In addition, access to a better lens and camera could resolve the issue, providing more detail. It would go a long way to remedy what ends up leaving these shots as one of the weaker elements visually.
In a similar vein, the interior shot below suffers a bit from not getting enough light to the sensor. It was likely due to using a wide lens that wasn’t as fast as some of the other lenses.
This has resulted in seeing a little more noise and not enough sharpness, in my opinion. I also find the framing of this shot slightly troublesome, as I would like to have lost the bed frame to further see what the character is doing, and just help the viewer be less distracted. I think the warm yellow nature of the lighting is nice and the semi-harshness works but I do find the hard shadow to the left of the image just a bit too distracting.
As a general point throughout the film, the colour grading feels a bit heavy handed and could do with being pulled back a little. If it had been more of a subtle element it would add together to make the overall look work better. Another element to the colour is the skin tones that, when viewing the below stills, look a bit off. If these were tightened up by utilising a qualifier to fine tune just the skin I believe it would go a long way to helping the characters' face pop out, helping the overall professional feel of the production. Obviously the skin can still be muted and could also still convey some of the green tones but consistency would help.
The final few shots could do with adjustment but I really like the method of starting both wide and also focusing on the small details, only at the end getting the glimpse of the characters face in full.
I think it is a strong and impactful second to last shot followed by the ‘Cradle’ title (featuring styling from Anthony Aitman’s poster designs), which I think finishes the film nicely. So, there’s a lot to be happy with but, as expected, there are elements I would do differently. In particular, this final wide could benefit from another take on the performance. The shot starts with the character standing up and has to end with him laying in the hole he has dug. I would be interested to see a slightly faster performance from Facer here. Given the amount of emotion he packs into the following close-ups, it would be nice to get to those shots quicker. I feel the keen eyes of a dedicated director would have spotted this when fine-tuning the performance on the day.