Grief has an unparalleled effect on us, and rarely do two individual experiences result in the same reactions or conclusions. Following the traumatic passing of her husband Martin, Katherine struggles to deal with the loneliness of the situation and her decaying relationship with her daughter. Grief-stricken, Katherine experiences aggressive visions, develops mutism and leaves to live a rough-lived life in the woods of Southern England in an attempt to find solace.
After previously working on other shorts, The Silence After Life comes to be writer and director Daniel Thomas Freeman’s first feature film. Experimenting with the formula of filmmaking, Freeman pushes traditional story mechanics into an instinctual response to recollect the mind, tackling the complex notions of death, grief, spiritualism, and traditional divides. Freeman’s choice in removing Katherine’s voice, the primary connection audiences have with characters, pushes a new layer of agency as Freeman draws on his experience as a musician, using composition to forge experiences and convey the narrative.
Perhaps the cleanest route of explanation for the film’s construct is a visual and auditory meditation experience. This is a still absolutely a film in the cinematic sense of the word (particularly with regard to Freeman’s cinematography), while the initial decision to remove much of the dialogue in The Silence After Life ties deeply into the visceral choking of grief and enclosing response some undergo as they are unable or unwilling to express themselves.
Though Freeman’s experimental film may tie the score into the narrative, this isn’t to say the art direction or cinematography suffers. Quite the reverse; much of Freeman’s camerawork and choices frame scenes in a particularly eye-catching manner. Freeman appears to frame locations with the intention to convey the spiritual nature of the film and draws the audience deeper into the otherworldly and detached mentality Katherine is feeling.
Upon the revelation that the film has taken five years to produce (with a chunk of this time set aside to evolve a meticulous score), it’s no surprise that The Silence After Life’s key asset is the patience it demonstrates in storytelling. The minimal dialogue is a rather brilliant choice and cements the marvellous transformative performance Sally Mortemore undertakes. Her nonverbal communications are told almost exclusively through raw agony, or, more impressively, a detachment in traditionally seen manifestations which helps to accentuate the atmosphere that Freeman constructs. And while this dedication to the film’s immersive meditation is impressive, there’s potentially a significant offset for audiences not able to achieve the same level of investment.
And though engaging, the experimental reliance on auditory narrative characteristics and landscape or scenic imagery make for a stagnation without movement. With regard to the meditation aspects of the film, if the audience is unable to reach a similar stance, difficulties can emerge in maintaining synchronised pacing. Though the visuals strike and the soundtrack evolves with the tonal ebbs, the scant movement means there’s a danger of straying minds and wandering eyes.
As the story reaches a tipping point, Katherine encounters Claire, a woman going through empathetic (if different) circumstances, and the two forge a bond in their shared pain. An undercurrent on the divide between LGBTQ+ and religion, with a gentile view to their rapprochement, emerges from Claire. Emma Spearing is granted a smaller amount of dialogue than Mortemore, but equally the pair recognise that silence and expressions are the chief signifiers for the film.
Peculiarly, though Freeman’s film branches from traditional storytelling mechanics, it doesn’t deviate from narrative structure. Nor are the experimental decisions of auditory storytelling all that revolutionary. The Silence After Life does, however, understand how to use the tools it lays bare and wields them significantly well. The infusion of shimmering colours, the splendours of framing and an intoxicatingly engaging soundtrack make for a film which channels the rhythmic nature of meditation.
Available to buy or stream on vimeo from Fri 27 Nov 2020