I watched Kepley when it premieres on April 30 and I wrote my thoughts about it that night on instagram, but I added more notes here.
***It contains spoilers***
This is a story about pain and about how someone can deal with it. It’s a story about how our mind elaborates a loss, the guilt that we carry with us and ultimately it’s a story about acceptance, which is, sooner or later, inevitable.
It’s not a simple plot unfold from the beginning towards the end and that is what makes the movie so powerful along with Elizabeth’s outstanding performance. It talks through images and through her acting and they couldn’t work without each other. It’s a crime movie where the protagonist tries to solve a mystery as much as the audience does with what he is watching, finding himself in an unsure and unusual territory, a feeling that the authors wanted to instil through the way they shot the whole project.
The truth is revealed only in the last minutes and just when you find out that all the evidences of the case are actually a decoy. The only clue that you can collect during the vision is the way Liz plays her character and that’s how I watched it. I usually try to collect information during a crime story, but in this case I observed with rapt attention Liz’s mighty and heartbreaking performance in order to understand what I was watching.
I don’t know why I didn’t try to collect the info about the investigation, but I tried to study Elizabeth instead, the way she was playing Gillian, while my mind was invaded by how it was all filmed: the shots, the camera movements, the light/dark contrast, the focus/blurry images. Information that I left there in my mind till it all hit me towards the end and my brain started putting pieces together.
The approach I had during my vision was so different from any other kind of things that I have experienced before. The way it was shot made me feel that way.
It was like I was right there with Gillian, and I was studying her way to perceive things and her emotions. She was looking at the evidences, trying to figure them all out, and I was looking at my evidence: the performance. I felt like an external character catapulted in the story, invisible to her eyes, but right there to see her closely. I was the camera. I was like the francting movements of the camera of the scene where she was analyzing all that she had about the case. All the angles in that scene were my approach. She was doing her investigation, clouded by her emotions, as much as I was doing mine, studying her emotions and trying to figure out where they came from and the reason behind them.
It was a surreal experience and I still feel overwhelmed.
While I was watching the movie my main thought was that I was seeing too much pain in Gillian. I didn’t understand why, and I was confused, just like Gillian I was not able to see, to find out, to understand.
At first I thought “ok she must be thinking about the fact that she couldn’t save someone”. Even if they were talking about a disappearance, I thought maybe it was a previous case, but it was very odd. How can something from her past be emotionally connected to this?
The girl that she keeps seeing in that field could be anyone: a previous victim she couldn’t save, even herself, or a vision of the girl who disappeared in the current investigation, but the pain Elizabeth conveys feels too much anyway. She is too involved.
When she talks to her colleague she accuses him and the team of having messed up with the evidences. Where was she?
She keeps trying to focus on the info that she has but she is not able to find a solution to this disappearance. She analyzes everything over and over again, like she must have done already millions of times. Another element I found strange that implies too much involvement is the fact that she drinks alcohol even during work.
In the first interrogation with Josè Fardo, the primary suspect (his DNA was the only one found on the crime scene), she tries to stay calm on the outside (Elizabeth almost doesn’t move her body), but she is mean, unnecessary mean.
Talking about his parents, Gillian asks: “Would you like me to tell you how they really died?”
A line that Elizabeth says with a deep tone and a sense of satisfaction along with a smug smile, knowing to inflict pain.
“They were tortured. They left them in the basement. They bled out… slowly.” She breaks him and shows not a hint of compassion.
Then she starts asking questions about Sarah O’Henry, the missing girl, and at some point you can see too much personal rage in Liz’s eyes and in how she purses her lips.
“When you lie to me, bad things happen.” She threatens him. It’s not a normal investigation. You can sense it. The location and the way it was filmed collaborate that feeling.
All around her and around him it’s very dark and essential, like most of the scenography of the movie. Liz and the other actor’s face are the only things on focus, all the rest of the shots are blurry. She has a bright light on her while he is more in the dark.
The vehemence in the second interrogation is so impetuous, violent, she is losing control. Why? And how can it be ok for a detective to be so upset? I see them losing control, but this one is too different. This scene is even more in the dark, you can barely see the wall of the room, unusual for an interrogation room. No window. Bare wide space. Light only on the characters. These are all tips that make you understand that what you are actually watching is not the reality.
Liz plays Gillian as a devastated woman, I would not let her be anywhere during an investigation. She plays her like she was carrying such a personal burden and the only thing I can think of is “this woman cannot work in this condition.”
Her colleague is compliant and seems to accept whatever attitude she has.
I love the sequence shot of the next scene, starting from Gillian arriving in her empty house, walking slowly and showing all her despair and torment. A lot of the envelopes lie on the small table, all with the same address: “K.H. – 577 Marple St. LA CA 90046”. Pieces are coming together. The camera keeps rolling till we see again Liz’s character sit on her armchair by the fireplace (already lit).
The pain that Elizabeth is able to convey in this scene is immeasurable. The loneliness she expresses in that hallway, the slowness of her steps says how much she doesn’t want to be in her own house. Why? Why is she so desperate?
And then she envisions the girl once again, this time she is in her house. You can sense a glimmer of hope in her reaction when she sees her, but then Gillian starts crying. She doesn’t try to talk to her, but with her eyes she tells her that she is sorry.
This is when I realize for sure it cannot be a previous case. The vision of this girl is too personal, just like her pain, her rage, her determination, her frustration and her guilt.
David calls, there’s someone who claims to have information about Sarah’s case, but Gillian says that she cannot go there. She’s not ready yet. Instead they meet up in a church. The way she walks down the aisle, the expression on Liz’s face speak to me so profoundly. It’s someone who is walking in an empty church before the funeral Mass. You know what it is about to happen, you know that it’s the last goodbye.
Gillian asks: “Do you know what it is to be truly alone?” and she continues “I do.”
How Liz delivers that line, with the genuine knowledge about how it is to feel alone. Who did you lose, Gillian? That girl.
And then after she meets the man she didn’t want to meet, the painful truth is revealed: Sarah is her daughter and she’s been dead for 5 months. And before she was abducted, she tried to call her mom, but Gillian didn’t pick up the phone. So all the pain flowing in her veins along with guilt is a swollen river, but she’s letting only one tear out, closing her eyes. It’s over.
The bitter irony is that it was her who was not able to see the decoy which adds more guilt and frustration to an already devastated woman.
While I was watching one of the things that crossed my mind was that some of the locations were surreal. They were places but not existing places, like everything was symbolic and not actually real. And by the end of the movie I got to know why I felt like that, why it was shot in a way to instil that feeling, why Liz played the character in a way to instil that feeling. Towards the end I was finally able to put all the clues together: the whole short took place only in Gillian’s head, a path to accept the truth, her guilt, a place to adjust her mind, a solution to her unanswered questions, a way to put a closure to her loss and let go.
“Sometimes there is no truth,” her colleague says, but you need one to give your soul the peace that you need.
In the church he says: “Gillian, it’s time,” and they leave the place (that represents a symbol to say a goodbye before the burial) to meet the man who claims to “want to ease your burden”, in order to accept the truth. The killer is there “to tell you what you already know. I know who you see, Gillian.”
Gillian Kepley has been investigating an abduction, but the reality is that it has always been a murder case. When that man reveals that Sarah has been dead for 5 months, Gillian’s reaction is not of someone who’s just found out about it. It is the reaction of someone who already knew it, but was trying to avoid it. The pain Elizabeth expresses is there, but it’s a different kind of pain.
This is the exact moment when I was 100% sure that everything that I saw was a world in the detective’s head. And what is even more sad is that she probably never caught the killer.
Elizabeth in this scene is simply breath-taking, the way she says “Who are you?” with gritted teeth while she doesn’t move any part of her body gives me chills. After a first close-up on her face, they change the angle of the shot on the killer. This is so destabilizing for those who are watching and is obviously done to get that effect in the audience. All the close-ups on Elizabeth are so significant, just half part of her face is on focus and the rest of the shot is completely blurry.
There are so many elements in the movie, little clues, that made me understand that what I watched was happening in Gillian’s head and it wasn’t reality. When you start watching, you don’t know what you are watching. You think it’s a crime story and it was made in a way that you can sense there is something odd, but you don’t know what it is. The directors (who are also the writers of this short) and Elizabeth with her performance built it in order to overwhelm the audience and wrap it up in a narrative game where just at the end you can be sure of what kind of diegetic experience you’ve just lived.
It reminds me of David Lynch’s style, but more essential, less confusing and less bizarre. With Lynch you understand from the beginning that you are watching some sort of dream, with this short you can sense the oddity but you don’t have time to understand what it is really going on till the end. It truly feels like you are doing your own investigation while Gillian is doing hers.
Beside the locations, the way they moved the camera, the focus/blurry shots, the light/dark effects, other elements were used to create this and to make you understand that all the events happen in Gillian’s head. One of the most important clue is the fact that there aren’t other people in the short. The pub is empty, not even a bartender, the only characters we see are Gillian, David, the suspects, the daughter and the killer.
Think about the scene on the roof when her colleague brings her the envelope. It is not only an aesthetic shot, it’s an escamotage in order not to show that there is no one else in that police department.
David says that the package just came for her, but there is her house’s address on it, not her work address. It is something that we find out later if we didn’t pay so much attention to what Gillian says at the beginning when she mentions the address of occurrence.
The envelope is already open. I thought that was weird as well, but then I told myself “maybe they control her mail because of danger” but it seems a little extreme.
The darkness in the second scene represents all the failures in the investigation, all black around her, like her mind that is not able to accept the truth, and the intense light on the chair is like the decoy she didn’t see.
There are a few lines in the screenplay that definitely make you understand that something is odd and you are not watching the reality. Her colleague never mentioning that Sarah is her daughter for example. David calls her and tells her to meet up at Sarah’s last seen location for new R-66 activities and then she arrives there and says “I know this place”. Of course she knows that place.
The entire shots are like paintings, when the camera moves it is like seeing animating paintings.
I need to mention how amazing the scenes in the field are. Gillian and her daughter can see each other, but they are far away and they never get closer. This depicts the impossibility to be reunited with each other. Heartbreaking. In the first scene Elizabeth conveys so much desolation and pain that sets the atmosphere and the tone of the entire movie.
The final scene is just the portrait of the despair, after metabolizing the truth, followed by the acceptance when she hears her daughter’s voice, and yet a request of forgiveness, an apology for everything, for not having been able to save her, for not having answered her calls, for not having seen the reality till the end. Elizabeth ultimately conveys the loneliness that will follow Gillian for the rest of her life, a hole in her heart where Sarah used to be.
I still cannot shake out the agony, the affliction, the torment, the torture Liz conveyed throught this character.
Incredible performance, overwhelming experience, intense movie.