Wednesday , April 17 2024
We Might as Well Be Dead, International Narrative Feature, Tribeca Film Festival
Ioana Jacob in 'We Might as Well be Dead by Natalia Sinelnikova at Tribea Film Festival (courtesy of Tribeca)

Tribeca Film Festival Review: ”We Might as Well be Dead’

There is no Merry Christmas in We Might as Well be Dead

In the initial shots of the extraordinary We Might as Well be Dead, we note a family of three. A father, mother and young boy nervously run along a forested dirt road. In an unusual accompaniment, the Ukrainian “Carol of the Bells” hurries them along. The Christmas song is normally beautiful and hopeful. However, the director unspools at a faster tempo to accompany this scared family in flight. Their fear strikes tremendous irony against the song’s cheer. There is no Merry Christmas in We Might as Well be Dead.

Subsequently, director Natalia Sinelnikova continues with the discordant “weird,” using heightened sounds and silences. As Tower Guard Anna (Ioana Jacob) surveils the family on 10 security camera screens, she opens the gate so they may enter the expansive compound. Indeed, the strangeness continues with a loud snap as the stern faced Anna puts on rubber gloves to avoid contamination. Her footsteps loudly peel as the only sound in the austere Tower complex, signifying this momentous occasion. A family applies for an impossible to get vacancy in the community.

Masterfully, the director conveys that fear from outside intrusion governs the Tower House as Anna wands down the family for firearms. After Anna’s security check, the weirdness breaks into satire when she impassively questions the family for health improprieties. These include paralyses, cough, fever, nightmares, diarrhea, suicidal thoughts. Moving to the piece de resistance, Anna asks if the family has ever been evicted from a “house community” for “unsocial, immoral or inconsiderate behavior.”

We Might as Well be Dead Manifests Fear in Silence

Throughout, this opening sequence of We Might As Well be Dead sets up the increasing dread that follows. Alternating silence with mundane sounds that haunt and fixate with anxiety, the director’s choices relate dystopian themes. The first occurs when the father on his knees begs Anna to let them be accepted into the collective. Indeed, he states his child deserves a chance not to live with what’s “out there.”

Though the director never reveals whether the father refers to world chaos, crime, devastation, roving gangs, floods, war, famine, he convinces us to dread the “outside horrible.” He believes the Tower Block will save his son and the family from “them.” The look on Anna’s face reveals complex emotional torment. She can’t receive bribes; they watch her too. Yet, she empathizes because she and her daughter don’t want to confront the “terror” outside the compound. Living in the Tower for six years, she tells the father, she knows to what he refers. Outside the compound’s barbed wire fencing, people do not live peacefully, safely, or happily.

Underlying the dread manifested with all the traditional techniques of film making at her disposal, Sinelnikova withholds information. If we only knew what the family and community feared, we could dismiss it. Brilliantly, Sinelnikova never lets on. The generalized horror remains opaque, unseen, but acknowledged. By degrees, we grow more concerned after this initial dismissal of the family whose acceptance the members in a group council meeting question.

A Tenant’s Dog Mysteriously Disappears

Serenely, tenants young and old enjoy their quiet life in the complex. However, when a tenant’s dog mysteriously disappears, the owner questions the breach of security. Around the same time, Anna’s daughter Iris (Pola Geiger) refuses to join in a celebration and sing-along. Difficulties increase when Iris locks herself in her room, only taking her food through an animal door at the bottom. Convinced she manifests the evil eye that causes destruction on those she wishes harm to, Iris refuses to come out. Translated to us in anxiety, Iris’ reactions and Anna’s fear of losing their tenancy because of her daughter’s conduct sits like doom in our hearts. Also, the “insane” invisibility of Iris (we only see her hands and arms) unnerves.

Increasingly, the lost dogs’ owner blames Anna for not securing the compound. His panic convinces other tenants that intruders invade the compound, despite no evidence. His paranoid insistence grows; Anna cannot quell it. When he finds a dead marten and claims this “dog” has been killed by someone in the complex, Anna acts. Unfortunately, her anger results in her own punishment. The members evict her for a night in the cold. Importantly, this act of exclusion reminds the wrongdoer of possible eviction from the “safe” community, if bad behavior continues. Under a pressure cooker of dismay and worry, Anna increasingly makes decisions which jeopardize her and her daughter.

You will find no spoiler alert. You have to see this amazing work that symbolizes the irrational generalized horror that others latch on to conspiratorially to they may soothe their own inner psychoses. Indeed, the tenants project the horror from within outward. Thus they prove nowhere can be safe when a consensus agrees to a nightmare fantasy they manifest as real through their faith.

We Might as Well be Dead is Thematically Current

The director and her co-writer Viktor Gallandi’s work intimate the past in the present in a thematically current film. The bright lighting contrasted with the darknesses when Anna investigates the grounds at night provide a complex metaphor of internalized fears. The flat lighting and greenery in the complex menaces with every externalized exclamation of tenant insecurity. These frights Anna cannot expurgate. Nothing can be done. She can’t save the community from their own nightmares that they refuse to own. Thus, she must save herself and her daughter amidst the whining chorus against her “incompetence.”

The themes, heightened by the director’s well thought out cinematography, scenic design, shot composition, lighting design and eerie silences alternated with sounds and weird tones, resonate. Indeed, paramount among them we note the impossibility of being safe when human beings generate their own devils. Regardless of how much a gated community symbolized by the Tower Block house closes out the lower class undesirables; exclusion imprisons those who exclude. Isolation with “the selected good people” is its own hell that foments a projection of psychotic inner terrors outward. Fitting into standards instead of flexibly confronting differences creates horrors that weaken one’s soul and spirit.

Natalia Sinelnikova’s feature film in the Tribeca Film Festival International Narrative Competition burns into one’s memory. Elegantly realized, with atmospheric moment it remains a must see. Check the Tribeca At Home platform to see this superbly dramatic film.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' ( 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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