Siobhan, a 2020 short psychological thriller, meritoriously fits into the genre and, although only nineteen minutes in duration, furnishes the checklist of the elements of a thriller. In general, thriller is a genre of fiction that has various subgenres, and is defined by the mood and responses it evokes and elicits. Regardless of what category of art, music, or literature a thriller belongs to, it is supposed to give the audience intense feelings of suspense, excitement, anxiety, and apprehension and in order to do so the genre employs a number of devices that may differ from one branch of art to another. Thriller films, above all, rely on arousing feelings of suspense in the viewers, and thus, this element is manipulated the most by filmmakers and is built through plot twists and creating menacing situations that generate more tension.
As a successful short thriller quintessential, Siobhan, has brought home to its director, Bruce Wabbit, and the crew several festival awards including some from Toronto Independent Festival of CIFT, New York Independent Cinema Awards, and Direct Monthly Online Film Festival. Wabbit is a former visual editor who tried his hand in cinematography and filmmaking by “Just To Be Frank” in 2017 that won seven best short film awards along with best cinematography. In his interview with Toronto Film Magazine he says he had the concept idea of Siobhan before the lockdown and they were getting everything in place when the lockdown period started, forcing them to get more creative, and change the original ideas. As a result of the lockdown, he had to direct eight different actors between three countries to actualize his ideas which makes the film even more amazing.
Siobhan, a young woman, recounts her contemplations on love and how the love life of her parents, an Irish poet and a philosopher from Marrakesh, has shaped her conception of love. Having lost the dog that belonged to her and her partner, she has a fierce argument with Matt, her partner, that culminates in a phone call to the police to report domestic disturbance. Matt disappears afterwards putting her under suspicion for some time, and when he shows up again they decide to accept Siobhan’s mother’s offer to take them away from the city on her boat at the weekend. The short trip resolves the conflict, fulfilling what the viewer possibly fears the most.
Scenes of nature constitute the opening sequence of the film. Although such scenes are supposed to exude serenity and tranquility, the excellent choice of music and the telephone conversation between Siobhan and her mother create a premonitory sense of anxiety and suspense that makes a masterful threshold to the world of the film, gives the viewer carefully selected pieces of information about Siobhan’s relationship with her partner and her mother, and reveals how unhappy and mentally unsettled she feels. This is further reinforced by other scenes from different parts of the film depicting her running in her white hoodie, crying, screaming, or even unable to remember clearly what has happened between her and her partner.
Her intrinsic inclination towards violence is first revealed when she gets into an argument with Matt and hurts him physically. She is shown via the reflection of her hands before, and her full reflection during the argument, in the mirror. This, along with the camera’s focus on her hands several more times throughout the film can be indicative of an untamed drive within her that takes control of her making her hands do unspeakable things like stealing pet dogs in a park and killing them, as if they have their own separate pernicious life. The scenes in which she is filmed confined behind an emergency exit unable to open it and liberate herself intelligently convey her imprisonment inside herself and her being constantly plagued by the urge to use violence. Her interest in running, her throwing up in the toilet, and her trying to wash herself clean of guilt after assaulting Matt all communicate how hard she tries to run away from herself and the hidden anger inside her that harbors violence.
There are several clever analogies in the film that give depth as well as twists to the plot. The major analogy that runs through the film functioning as the central pillar around which the plot evolves and the story unfolds itself is the one Siobhan draws between falling in love and owning a dog. Dogs are a strong motif in the film and the call to 911 reporting the stealing of a pet dog by a guy in a white hoodie at the beginning of the film is an anticipation of the dark events ahead which falls deftly in line with the same call to 911 at the end of the film reporting a man missing.
When younger, Siobhan has watched a woman she knew stab someone to death, and wonders what this may tell about her personality. The voice of her father in her head and other clues lead the viewer to believe the harrowing incident must have happened between her parents, and that her tendency towards violence is a “learned behavior” from which she cannot escape. She is strongly appalled at the idea of her cherishing it yet it is still her mother and the example she has set that have control over not only the boat that takes her and Matt to their ill fate but also the boat of her unconscious.
Suspense is created and sustained in Siobhan by controlling information and giving it to the audience drop by drop, therefore, keeping the audience thirst for more. Bruce Wabbit exactly knows how much and when and how to give clues or further information through the outstanding editing of the film and its professionally crafted dialogues. The characters are persuasively developed and lifelike, and the acting is quite convincing. The leading character has a complicated history that keeps the viewer guessing about the dark secrets in her past and how they might have affected her behavior today. The choice of music too is a heavy contributor to the overall atmosphere of the film. Be ready to be pushed to the edge of your seat and rest assured you are going to watch Siobhan multiple times.