Lost and alone a heavily pregnant girl is taken in by an elderly couple and, what starts out as a kind and helpful gesture, it soon turns into something more akin to a nightmare in Priyam Sadhukhan’s psychological drama From A Barren State.
Similar to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Misery, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the Oscar-winning Room, dramas about imprisonment have always been a staple of cinema. From A Barren State, a short film written and directed by Priyam Sadhukhan, joins this list telling the story of a pregnant woman taken in by a seemingly kind couple, who soon realizes that they have sinister intentions.
The film begins with the woman, Lena (an emotional Laura Van Yck) walking alone through the desert. She is far along in her pregnancy and is clearly exhausted. She collapses and an elderly couple, John and Mary, invite her into their home and offer her food and shelter. Lena is grateful for their help, but she soon realizes this couple is not what they seem. Obsessed with having a child of their own, they see Lena as a way to fulfill their dream and pressure her to give them her baby after it is born.
What makes From A Barren State stand out from the crowd, however, is the skill and talent of its cinematographer Gurdeep Singh Sidhu. Sidhu notably uses his cinematography to create a sense of claustrophobia and isolation, as well as to highlight the power dynamics between the three characters. Singh uses close-ups of Lena’s face to emphasize her fear and desperation, while the medium shots of the house in which she is confined create a sense of entrapment.
Singh also uses lighting to create atmosphere in the film; the scenes in the house are often dark and shadowy, which contributes to the sense of unease and suspense. The use of natural light is effective in highlighting the contrast between the outside world and the claustrophobic interior of the home. The use of Dutch angles creates a sense of disorientation and unease while also highlighting the tension or suspense in a scene. There is also a small use of slow motion that gives the film a sense of surrealism. There are some beautifully expansive shots of the desert early on, and a color scheme of red and blue is often used throughout the 15-minute run time to evoke certain emotions. Red is often associated with danger or violence, while blue symbolizes sadness or depression.
From a Barren State is a dark and disturbing film that explores the themes of motherhood, violence, and the lengths people will go to for their dreams. However, the film is flawed in parts, with some of the acting and violence being a bit “over-the-top”. What pulls the film through though is some clever direction by Sadhukhan and Gurdeep Singh Sidhu’s cinematography which becomes an essential part of the short film’s overall effect, creating a suspenseful and unsettling atmosphere that is a reminder that even the most seemingly kind people can have terribly dark secrets.