Still Life: An Analysis

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Still Life (Jon Knautz) is a short horror which follows an unnamed man as he travels through a small town inhabited by creepy mannequins. The narrative itself holds elements of mystery and ambiguity as it is unclear in the plot whether these strange events are actually occurring or if they are simply a reflection of the character’s state of mind (we see him popping pills as he drives in the beginning of the film). By the end of this short horror, we see the consequences of his actions as he discovers that the mannequins are in fact living people like himself.

Editing is cleverly used to create the effect that the mannequins are moving. We see the mannequins from the point of view of the main character throughout the film, so we don’t ever see them physically move in the shot (no CGI or animation). However the mannequins change positions in each frame and the quick paced editing is used to imply that these mannequins are living. The cafe scene is a good example to show the way in which editing is used to create this effect. As the the unnamed man walks into the cafe, the mannequins are positioned in a different way to the next shot where they are all facing towards him. The fact that we don’t see the mannequins actually move is what makes them so unsettling.

Knautz continually creates a feeling of loneliness from the onset of the film. An establishing shot of the snowy landscape is used to show the desolate environment in which the film is set. All of this empty space within the frame emphasizes the fact that the main character is alone and vulnerable in his surroundings.  It also influences the emotional response of the viewer as a sense of unease is evoked through the stillness of the shot.

Close ups are also used regularly as we follow the man during his car journey. Through these shots, Knautz is influencing the viewer to feel empathetic with him by filming as close to his face as possible allowing the viewer to connect with the character. These close up shots show him as he takes a substantial amount of pills. It is implied through a close up of his tired looking eyes that he is taking these pills to keep himself awake whilst he drives.

Point of view shots are also a regular occurrence within the film. Again, this allows the viewer to feel a connection to the main character as we see his surrounding environment through his eyes. These shots also limit the viewer’s knowledge of what is happening which contributes to the idea of ‘the fear of the unknown’; which is often used in generic horror films.

The man gradually becomes more and more vulnerable within his environment as the film progresses. Although, the viewer has been forced to feel connected with him, Knautz takes one moment to truly show that he is completely isolated through the use of a bird’s eye view shot. Now, we are looking down on the protagonist as he exits his car after crashing into an unknown object.  This shot allows us as viewers to watch the events from an outsider’s point of view, contrasting with the earlier close ups and point of view shots used in the car. The framing is also important as the actor is made to look small and squat within the shot, emphasizing his vulnerability and isolation.

The setting and location is also essential in creating a feeling of uncertainty and loneliness. Knautz has chosen to film his piece in a snowy environment. The snow is important as it  makes the area look somewhat lifeless and this works well with the fact that there seems to be no literal form of life anywhere in the town.

Snow also plays an important part when it comes to lighting. It is reflecting the light, causing the town to be extremely bright. Generically, bright lighting is used to express happiness or joy. However, it is used quite differently in this film. The brightness adds to the character’s vulnerability as he is illuminated in this desolate environment making it difficult for him to find somewhere to hide or seek some sort of refuge.

As mentioned earlier, we see the main character taking pills in the car. These are probably one of the most important props used within the film (except, of course, the mannequins) as they are the only things that give the viewer a clue as to why the character believes that the living people around him are lifeless mannequins. Another important prop is the baseball bat which is used as a weapon by a mannequin but unfortunately becomes a murder weapon by the main character.  This prop is used as an implication that the mannequins are living people after the main character uses it to smash up a family but then goes upstairs to find that the baseball bat and himself are covered in blood. He drops the bat in shock as he learns that he has murdered real people rather than just destroyed man made objects.

The ending itself is quite ironic as we are made to feel that the character is endangered, when in fact he is a danger to the people around him due to his instability and hallucinations.

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