Written, directed, and co-produced by award-winning film-maker Isabel Dréan, Let Go is a film that expands on her catalogue of psychological horror and suspense.
The film opens with a shot of a tree, sunlight flooding through its branches. We travel from this tree to a bedroom. It is morning, and a woman (Canadian actress Claudia Ferri) lies in bed with her children. As the three begin to wake up, the film’s tentative piano score emphasizes the mood of the scene without overshadowing it. Mother and children are happy, and this happiness is evidenced by their laughter and teasing. The girl and boy are played by the director’s own children, and each does a commendable job–this first scene is sweet while still maintaining realism.
Almost instantly, we take note of Dréan’s use of light. Sunlight glimmers from behind trees and shines through curtains. Conversely, shadow is favored in the film’s first sorrowful moment, in which we learn the woman’s daughter, Claire, has died. As the viewer, we are not given a cause of death, though alternating shots from the past to the present suggest her death was sudden.
A shift in the film’s mood occurs as mother and son struggle to continue their daily lives. The young boy, Mathis, has difficulty accepting his sister’s death, telling his mother he can still see and speak with Claire. In one bedtime scene, emotions run high as the boy rejects his mother’s first lullaby selection. “Claire wants to hear rock-a-bye baby,” he says. His mother looks at him and sternly but lovingly corrects his choice of words: “No, you want to hear it.” The boy is adamant, and points across the room. “Look.”
The film’s focus on the subjective urges us to explore how dreams and visions within a film shape our interpretation of reality. When an element within a scene is presented as fantasy, how do we as an audience determine which voice to trust? We don’t necessarily believe Mathis when he first says he can see his sister, but as we bear witness to the mother’s vision of her daughter in the car, we begin to believe it’s possible.
Let Go is a quick film, totalling just under twenty minutes. In this relatively short amount of time, we establish genuine connection with the characters. The loss of a child is unbearable, and Dréan, along with honest acting by Ferri, manages to convey the depth of this loss without descending into melodrama.
In the end, the viewer is unsure which interpretation of Let Go is accurate. By skilful sequencing of the film’s events, Dréan plants a seed of uncertainty in the viewer’s mind which is reinforced by the film’s last scene. At this time, the viewer is faced with reality–but are we able to accept it?
While the themes presented in Let Go may be the stuff of horror movies, Dréan’s treatment of these themes is not horrific. The ending is matter-of-fact and seems natural–as viewers, we derive no pleasure from the woman’s sadness and don’t wish to prolong it. We are empathetic to the woman’s struggles, and try to accept their logical conclusion.
Dréan’s work consists of both the real and unreal. Like any film, it is the imagined product of a director’s consciousness, but at the same time is rooted firmly in a material reality. Actors take up space and enact each scene using real words, real gestures. Lighting, though often staged, is similarly real in the sense that it can be seen and perceived. In the visions of Let Go, fantasy is established within an already artificial universe, and in this way, Dréan develops her own hierarchy of reality. Let Go serves as an interrogation of the viewer by asking more questions than it answers, and our reaction to the film’s ending–whether positive or negative–is not necessarily as important as the questions we ask along the way.
By Juliette Faraone
Juliette Faraone is 25 and feels it. She hails from Indiana and her habits include petting cats, reading books, and annoying her girlfriend with movie trivia. When she finally gets around to grad school, she plans to pursue a degree in gender studies and comparative literature. Her favorite films include Alien, Set It Off, and Meet Me in St. Louis. She rants about feminism on Facebook under the name Eyelash Welch.