A troubled teenager hangs out with his friends while also undergoing therapy to overcome his demons and help him distinguish between fact and fiction. Here is our review of Joshua and Sasha Nelson’s psychological drama A Broken Arrow.
What where you doing when you were 14 years old? I was probably playing some sort of sport orientated activity or working out Pythagoras Theorem, or trying to decide which way to part my hair. What I wasn’t doing, which I probably should have been, was writing screenplays and co-directing short films. What we have here is a psychological thriller written and co-directed by 14-year-old Sasha Nelson, who shows an assured ear for dialogue and an awful lot of promise.
The first thing you are told when you begin writing is to write about what you know, and what Sasha Nelson has done is focus on a small group of teenage friends of similar age to herself, who are all on the cusp of adulthood. The group is old enough to know about what goes on in the world and all that growing up entails, but they are not quite experienced enough to fully understand it. Nowhere is this more clearly shown than in an amusing opening scene where we see the group of four friends all sat around a fire, toasting marshmallows. These friends are far more comfortable bickering, eating snacks, and talking to each other about Disney films than they are about shopping, social media, or learning about the opposite sex. During this scene we see that each character is an archetype of those coming of age movies that we have all seen before, there is the pretty girl, the jock, the best friend, and the outcast.
Amongst this group of starry-eyed, fresh-faced innocents, there is one particular person who stands out – Arrow. Arrow is the outcast of the group; the gloomily sad and least approachable of the four. As they all sit around the campfire telling each other scary stories, Arrow’s are the stories with the darker flavours; the ones with endings that involve death, destruction, and misery. When we first meet him we simply want to shake him and scream at him to lighten up, but then as we learn more about his background we realise that Arrow is a very troubled individual, having been in and out of therapy his whole life, pushed from psychiatrist to psychiatrist. Arrow’s loving mother, Sunny, is at the end of her tether; all of these so-called Dr’s just want to give him tablets and drug him up to the eyeballs, and that is not what Sunny wants for her son. Finally, the family finds Dr. Miller the only Doctor in town who is willing to deal with Arrow’s problems head-on by using basic psychological techniques instead of different types of medication.
Arrow (played by Danny Lee) is absolutely tortured throughout this film; his life is ruled by his low self-esteem, his fear, and his imagination. His sessions with Dr. Miller are some of the shorts most visible insights into the character but as Arrow talks through his issues more and more, his mind is given free rein to think what it wants. Then, as his imagination takes over, the thoughts become darker, more visceral, and far less controlled.
This set up becomes more impressive when you remember the age of A Broken Arrow’s main contributor Sasha Nelson. Writing about what you know is the easy part but when the characters begin to talk about psychological delusions, medical practices, therapies as well as the conflict, pain, and anger of actual human relationships, you realise you might just have a special talent on your hands.
If there are criticisms to be found with A Broken Arrow it would be about the dearth of camera movement that is on show, as the majority of scenes take place using mid shots and close-ups remaining pretty static. It just feels like, despite the odd drone shot, the cinematography lacks some imagination. Meanwhile, some of the performers’ inexperience does become quite visible due to some unusual choices when delivering the dialogue. This is mere nitpicking considering the effort that has gone into the making of this 22 minute short. A Broken Arrow is a serious psychological thriller that manages to entertain while also making you think.