After being found deep in the woods seemingly unable to recall her identity, a young girl and a self-harming prostitute cross paths to discover their mysterious connection to one another. Here is our review of Matthew R Ford’s Safely To Shore.
Opening in a brightly lit wood with a half-dressed girl staring blankly in front of her Safely To Shore does nothing to prepare us for the difficult journey that we are about to embark upon. There is no safety net with this film, no humour no explanation, not even a smile, it is a nihilistic nightmare of abuse, loss, and loneliness.
The characters in Ford’s 30-minute short look as if they have never stepped foot outside their homes in all of their lives, they are pale, stiff and stilted. The film’s lighting gives us the impression that they are all cold to the touch. One is a prostitute we see on the streets and another a curb crawler who picks her up but they don’t seem to be able to connect with anyone in any meaningful way other than sex or violence. Nobody seems to have any feelings other than sorrow, shame, and confusion while one of the other characters even resorts to self-harm just to feel something.
The film is shot in a style that makes everything seem claustrophobic and far more bleak and narrow than it must, while the soundtrack is unsettling and adds to the confusion of the situation. Voices sound flat and toneless as if we are experiencing all this in empty rooms but all of these choices are right for the film. These characters exist in a world without the usual layers of protection. They are clothed but not warmly or cheerfully and seem exempt from families, relationships, homes, values or jobs. They exist in a stylistic modern Britain with nothing but their words and paranoia.
The performances are all good as there is a lot of stillness in each character a sort of reserved Britishness if you like, the stilted delivery and stiffness of the actors is initially off-putting at first but once the film kicks in, you realise the type of drama you are watching and the performances become accepted and understood. We feel pain for these people especially the girls in the film, something has gone terribly wrong in their lives, something that has left them in these situations. Stranded without connections, employment or hope.
The screenplay and direction of the actors have created a bunch of characters who could have only emerged from close observations and rehearsal and not so much conventional means. Are there people like this? I’d say yes there are many people who have the ability and intelligence to lead functioning lives but lack the will and the opening to achieve it. Lots of people like these fall through the cracks of society and once you have fallen off that horse, it is very difficult to get back on.
This is a painful movie to watch but it does keep you watching, that is mainly because we are seeing a director experimenting with his subject matter, venturing beyond conventional ideas of what films can be about. In my opinion, there is no real plot as such with Safely To Shore, no characters we can identify with no hope to cling to and no one to come to the rescue and take you away, but there is care. The filmmakers care enough about these people to observe them carefully, noting down how they look, sound and what they are feeling. The world is indifferent to them and they are to it, to some degree they don’t even understand it. But when they do understand their world the answers they find are not hopeful or positive they are unable to even work out a plan.
For characters with nothing left to give destruction and violence is their only response.
A strong character-driven piece.