Just another regular day at Marie’s middle school, except that her best friend does not seem to be there and Marie is desperate to talk after what happened the last time they saw each other. The writer/director duo of Celine Held & Logan George are back on S/W (for a record sixth time!) with a brand new topical story, this time taking on unrequited love, teenage confusion, and suppressed desires, then layering these potent character themes upon a canvas of typical American school-life, scarred by mass-shootings. Set within a “lockdown”, the result of a reported violent threat towards the school, the film focuses on its main characters and crafts palpable tension between them, exploring a personal development that will irrevocably change a strong friendship.
Despite being set within a ripped-from-headlines context, the scenario of the title is not its primary draw. Lockdown is a resolutely character-oriented work, centering on Marie and her quest to reach her best friend. While not reliant on a conventional twist, plot-wise it is still best to approach the film cold. So, while we will talk around the edges of the plot in this review, you may want to watch the film first.
Held and George utilize the tools of their craft to focus the audience on the story they are trying to tell early on. From the opening scene we experience the film from Marie’s point of view, as we are introduced to her via the front camera of her cell phone, immediately creating an intimacy and a connection with her. Details are parceled out slowly, and an alarming picture emerges. However the deck is stacked in Marie’s favor—teenage drama can feel existential to those involved in even normal scenarios, but the particulars of Marie’s evokes extra angst. We can’t help but empathize with her predicament and find her desperation compelling, making us want to root for her. As the plot progresses, this desire is tested—Marie’s selfishness in not thinking through the consequences of her actions towards her classmates, and even towards her friend, are agonizingly dramatized. As a result the viewer comes into conflict between their sense of empathy and outrage. We can all remember when the dramas of high school felt life or death, and with Marie’s powerful and confusing emotions it comes as no surprise that her determination will make her push boundaries. However, can she justify her actions? Can we forgive her?
The film has very little dialogue, as the focus of the story is everything that is unsaid and unspoken desires. Therefore, Allegra Leguizamo’s performance is essential to the success of the film, and she delivers! She is practically in every shot, with lots of close-ups where her facial expressions, sometimes just her eyes, do all of the talking. She nails every single one of them revealing layers of her personality one by one, exposing every single feeling she goes through including all of the confusion and desperation.
Held drew inspiration for the narrative from a story that occurred during her middle school years involving a fire alarm and a crush. To place it in a more modern context, they adapted the story to also touch on the normalization of lockdowns in American schools. A photo by Alec Soth definitely influenced the color palette of the film, the gym class setting, and the nonchalant reaction of the students going through (yet another) lockdown drill. The charged atmosphere of the situation, contrasted with its routine mundanity, powerfully evokes the current climate of school life in the US while subtly exposing a consequence of gun violence without it being the main focus of the film.
In contrast with the specificities of the general context, Lockdown succeeds however due to its skill at dramatizing what could otherwise be a routine coming-of-age story—a typical teenager with a burning desire that she can’t openly express. But by linking it to the charged context, Held and George are able to escalate the stakes deliciously—when Marie’s naked need gets too strong, a line is crossed, inciting ramifications that, in her state of mind, she can scarcely comprehend.
Lockdown premiered earlier this year at Sundance before making notable stops at SXSW and the Palm Springs ShortFest, ahead of its online release today as the Vimeo Staff Pick Award of the New Orleans Film Festival. Held and George are currently working on their upcoming first feature length film Topside, which is a top contender to debut on the 2020 festival circuit. Until then, catch up with this exciting and prolific director team by (re)visiting all their previously featured shorts: Fever, Valencia Road, Mouse, Babs and Caroline.