They say “Til’ death do us part”, but sometimes a relationship feels less like a perfect union and more like a pair of shackles. Heidi Marshall’s Muscle explores the ambivalence of a wife who is tasked with taking care of her dying husband, as she struggles with the relationship itself, which started falling apart before the sickness hit. It is a slow-paced, thoughtful film that is light on dialogue, but heavy on impact.
According to director Heidi Marshall, the team spent a year developing the script, and Muscle’s final form speaks volumes about the main character’s situation without using much speech at all. It’s soaked in the kind of subtext that exists in great films, where everything you need to know is hinted at but never overtly explained.
There are a number of successful short films that tell you too much about what’s going on, but in this film, you learn what you need to know from reading between the lines and paying close attention to everything onscreen. It’s a huge relief to see a short film that is so understated but also so effective with its storytelling style.
Though the dying husband is certainly present in the film, the only characters that truly matter are female. I like how the story hones in on the wife’s frustration while essentially removing the husband from the picture; because of this, it utilizes an untold angle to tell the story in a fresh way.
The lead actress (Fiona Graham) brings a strong, independent character to life, and her experience is vivid and relatable. Though she doesn’t talk much, it doesn’t really matter; the story is mostly told through her actions and body language, and the performance she gives is riveting, as is the one from actor Reiko Aylesworth, who plays a bartender Fiona’s character meets in upstate New York.
Muscle isn’t necessarily an easy watch, but the tale it tells is one that is not only important, but often ignored. It is an understated, desaturated slow burn of a story, and though it appears to be about a degenerative illness, it is perhaps even more about a degenerative relationship, and the contradictory feelings that can come along when a commitment is compromised.
Muscle was 90% funded by women, and the crew was comprised of a 50/50 gender mix. Heidi and her team currently have two short films and three features in development. You can check out her site below.