Unremarkable starts as a mystery—a woman, clearly in distress, exits her car and promptly collapses in a parking lot. She is dead. What is the cause? Was she involved in criminal conspiracy of some sort? Is she patient zero for some new pandemic? The answer, slowly revealed, is much more mundane. The short itself isn’t though, it is in fact truly remarkable.
The film deals with the death at its beginning in arguably the most straightforward way possible, yet in doing so it becomes practically high concept. We follow the body through its subsequent journey, from discovery, to investigation, then examination, looking all the while to make sense of the tragedy. Through the progression of professionals, one is struck by the clinical nature of the interactions people have with the body—the routine, though not disrespectful, nature that one handles the dead when it is your job. With humor, and alacrity, the film speeds along enjoyably for the morbidly curious, but when it smashes smack into the particularity of deep individual grief, the tone shifts and the film reveals itself as an intricate marvel.
Writer/Director Jared Anderson in this, his AFI thesis, has achieved one of our favorite shorts of the year so far, a piece that is, honestly, damn near perfect. Unremarkable looks terrific—shot by Kai K. Krause it was nominated for an American Cinematographers Award, and I admired greatly the production itself. From the locations, to the bodies in the morgue, no amateur elements pop up to take you out of the scene.
Anderson’s direction is commensurate in skill to his team too. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen a short where I lean forward and admiringly take note of individual shots, but in Unremarkable there were multiple occasions where I did just that. I found the extreme long shot in the parking lot to be powerfully effective, and the POV sequence of the plastic sheet going over the body was striking. This originality extends to Anderson’s writing—the banter of the forensic pathologist was delightfully oddball, and the very real challenges the morticians faced with accommodating a grief-stricken family humanized and fleshed out those characters effectively and efficiently, illuminating their situations with minimal strokes.
These are not only the kind of details that are too often overlooked, they critically setup the juxtaposition that is the film’s theme, expressed right there in the title. There are dead bodies everyday, and to the professionals that deal with them a certain protective nonchalance naturally takes hold, one couldn’t function without it. Yet everyone is someone’s special person, and Anderson challenges us to not forget that.