After the trauma of experiencing a stillbirth, a woman struggling to cope with the reality of her circumstances discovers that the ground below her apartment might be pregnant. In this wildly imaginative and deeply resonant exploration of the fears surrounding female bodies and pregnancy, writer/director Haolu Wang takes us on the journey of acceptance a woman undertakes in the face of pressures from her partner, family, and, most notably, herself. Fusing magical realism with impeccable craft and a deeply compelling lead performance, The Pregnant Ground brings to the screen the inner psychology of a woman going through incredible loss.
The absurd concept of the film appeared to Wang as she was taking an evening walk and a raised road bump reminded her of a pregnant woman’s belly. Granted, this step did require a bit of imagination but, as she explained to us, the topic was on her mind—at the time Wang was struggling with her own fears of pregnancy and motherhood and the emergence of this bump lent itself easily to a symbolic appreciation—the enforced cordoning off of the area duplicating the isolation of a young mother, the male workers digging aggressively representing the intrusive violation of the body, the cacophony of noise mimicking the squawking of friends and family applying pressure upon her to embrace motherhood unconditionally.
As a filmmaker, Wang is drawn to narratives that explore psychological and emotional journeys of women, but approaches these subject obliquely, through a more immersive and subjective approach to her storytelling. Blurring the lines between reality and imagination allows her to access what her main character truly feels, deep inside. By exploring a quite taboo topic and exposing a very personal fear of going through an unwanted pregnancy and losing the child, Wang delivers a very powerful, honest and effective fantasy film about emotional horror.
This kind of storytelling is inherently challenging from a thematic level, but, for a student film from London’s acclaimed NFTS, The Pregnant Ground is also extremely ambitious from a production perspective. Finding the right balance for the fantasy elements while still grounding them in reality is a major roadblock, but fortunately, very early on the film asserts its sense of tone and craft. Incorporating a degree of production design and vfx that is rare for heavily dramatic short films such as this, Wang’s team apply a strong attention to detail towards the film’s production, specifically the green screen scenes of her character entering the “womb” of the road. Combined with remarkable cinematography, the craft of the film is up to the task of bringing the magical aspect of the film to the fore without stripping the scenes from the emotions.
None of it works however without Lu Huang, an accomplished actor in her native China, who gives a remarkable performance. She carries so much without saying a word. The film is her journey and she remains extremely compelling in every single scene, going through a plethora of emotions. Her numbness at the beginning stayed with me after the film ended, but overall she expertly realizes her character’s complex emotional arc.
The Pregnant Ground is Haolu Wang’s graduation film from the National Film and Television School in the UK. After a premiere at the Palm Springs ShortFest in 2019, the film made its way around on the festival circuit ahead of its online premiere. Wang is currently developing two projects, Monster in the Lake a psychological fantasy film set in China and Signal to Noise a sci-fi love film set in the UK.