Saturday, November 30, 2019

Movie Review - Away

© Subliminal Films
'Away' offers a minimalistic, immersive adventure in an escape from reality
by Jeremy Fogelman

Some movies are stuffed with too much plot to even preview in a review, but others have so little or are so basic that it’s basically a sentence or more to explain what it’s all about. The entire nature of a filmmaker being involved with a film often involves many layers between them and their final output, the various producers, studio notes, etc. There is something a bit different when the vision is an elevated student film.

Away comes from director Gints Zilbalodis, who also wrote and animated it. The style of the animation is all colors and no lines, although it’s not particularly impressionistic. There is no dialogue, only mild sound effects and an ever-present score. The movie follows a young boy crash landed (or so it seems) on a mysterious island by himself and with little help. In the style of a classic video game, he finds useful tools like a water canteen and a small motorbike, and the movie also switches between “stages” in a similar way.

You see all biomes here, desert and forest, jungle and mountain, snow and plains. Thus the feeling of showing off a different style of overcoming obstacles and solving puzzles. With a stark note of empathy, the boy rescues a small yellow bird, which is something to clearly pay dividends later. But as he explores, he sees a mysterious dark giant, shadowed and with two enormous white eyes, heading towards him.

It’s obvious that it’s something sinister or dangerous, or so it seems. The ultimate “point” or meaning behind the giant is a bit muddled, simplified to an extreme design and nature, assisted by the occasionally creepy score. Just like a game, the boy passes through various circular gates of stone, symbolic of the new places he must visit, with title cards to indicate the newest adventure or puzzle to be overcome.

The movie isn’t very long at all, more impressive as a feat of coherent story together than anything like a wonderful feat of animation and meaning since it came from one person. To me, the fact that there is a particular vibe and energy to the movie speaks well to the creator, a sort of sleepy, heightened reality of mysterious circumstances.

There’s a lot of design choices that remind me of all the various mysterious islands I’ve seen over the years, but this movie is more interested in trying to get you to empathize with the boy with no name who never speaks. For the most part, this is successful, even if some of the weird parts don’t quite work; they are often too weird or not weird enough.

Still, I think the ambience flows well and the movie isn’t boring, leaving an impression of something with mild substance if not depth. I think it bodes well for the future of the animator/director/creator.

© Subliminal Films

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