As a husband and wife begin to prepare dinner for their family of three, we are invited to sit down and join them as tensions begin to rise. Here is our review of writer/director Lukas Steinmaier’s black comedy of family manners, Sunday Roast.
Opening with a shot of a bright blue sky containing the odd cloud we have no idea of what’s in store for us during this 12 minute 53-second short film. The ominous sound of church bells tolling in the distance sets us slightly on edge while military music very reminiscent of Yankee Doodle begins to play over the soundtrack. Using quick cuts to normal everyday objects like chimneys, shrubbery, flowers, and a doorbell, we quickly get the feeling that we are about to enter a war zone. As the short progresses that is exactly what we get.
Cutting to a brief introduction from Laura, the daughter of the family (played by Caitlin Florence-Rose) who comes across as a sociopathic and even posher Nigella Lawson, about how to roast a chicken, we are introduced to mum and dad calmly preparing dinner in the kitchen. The behaviour between the two is stilted and the dialogue is delivered in an overly simplistic fashion, words are exchanged but they are full of fake enthusiasm.
Mum (Rebecca Alexander) and Dad (Antony Knight) are being polite but there is something ‘off’ about them, they are trying too hard, smiling too much, and their language is unnecessarily flowery. As time goes on we realise that mum and dad are trying to tolerate each other but the dam is about to burst.
Director Steinmaier manages to create some comically funny moments with the help of some clever editing that succeeds to build the tension even further; the stuffing of a chicken, the cutting of a carrot, the breaking of a leg, the drinking of a bottle. All of these moments add to the sense of impending doom while also enabling each family member to develop in front of our eyes. Meanwhile, the cinematography by Dimi Vakrilov is sumptuous and the set design is striking with the use of lush brown, yellow, and greens creating a lavish-yet-suffocating dining room environment.
Sit-down dinners are often used to help the audience understand the relationships between characters, so Steinmaier uses simple and direct coverage that allows each character to play out their roles by themselves as the pressure builds.
Placing the dining table in the centre of the room and frame creates a focused, intense view of the family. Steinmaier establishes this set-up with wide-angled shots that emphasize the distance between each of them in both space and their relationships. Mum and Dad sit at the furthest points of the table while poor Laura is stuck in the middle, equidistant to both of them.
Typically in dialogue-heavy scenes, the talking person is in a mid-shot with the listener’s shoulder in the foreground, out of focus to the side of the frame. A lot of the time Steinmaier chooses to just have one character in a mid-shot as well as their head and shoulders. This way we get the chance to fully appreciate the subtlety of their sarcastic deliveries as well as their reactions to each other. Although he does rely on close-ups a lot more towards the end of the short, his shot choices make the family seem oddly far away, as if they are on trial.
With each cast member putting in strong performances, and with an opulent set design, Sunday Roast will linger long in the memory. The entire short is a great example of how simple camera movement and coverage can present a drama, but with a stronger, more powerful ending Sunday Roast would have lingered in our heads for much longer. That said this is another great film from a Bournemouth Film School student, so a lot of credit must go to the teachers there who are helping to nurture a lot of great and promising filmmakers.