Jessica’s parents have been married for decades, but lockdown is proving difficult. And now mum has a plan to get dad out of the house.
Made in and of a pandemic — a Zoom call set-up and a snappy 10 minute running time — this isn’t a horror, despite first appearances (and the plethora of Zoom movies that have recently come before it). There are no ghosts lurking in the background, real or allegorical; just a long-married couple trying to cope with the changes in their home life now both are getting under each other’s feet all day. (You can watch the whole film below.)
You could say The Man At The Bottom Of The Garden is about two bubbles bumping up against one another; the bubble of Marji and Joe’s life and Boris’s pandemic ones. Jessica (Clare Calbraith) Zooms her parents every day, until on one call she discovers her father Joe is now living in the garden shed, “isolating” from wife Marji.
Their daughter watches from the sidelines, before a snippet of her own life is revealed. It’s only when they’re no longer allowed time apart, by a government determined to protect them, that Marji is forced into drastic action.
For Jessica, when she allows herself not to worry about her parents, their antics become something of a refuge from real life — they never seem particularly interested in hers, and their games with each other contrast with what we later find out Jessica is dealing with.
The three Zoom backgrounds (suburban house, garden shed and professional’s flat) are interspersed with amusing fragments of Marji and Joe’s life together. They break up the screens we may well feel we’ve seen enough of during the pandemic, in real life as much as in art.
Writer-director Paul Blinkhorn has crafted a mini drama that is both witty and true. The performances are terrific; while Calbraith’s Jessica teases out what has happened, always slightly nervous, never entirely reassured, Denise Black and Paul Bradley peel back the often-hidden layers of a long marriage. I have no idea if Black and Bradley have ever met in real life — the pandemic means they all shot their roles separately — but whether their acting is bolstered by instinct or genuine friendship they perfectly render the exasperation, teasing and love that comes from decades as a supportive if sometimes mutually irritated and irritating team.
This short actually came out in March this year, though I was only sent it to review this week. Zoom shoots and tiny casts were some of the few options available to filmmakers over the past 18 months, though I imagine three lockdowns in, some viewers will be sick of the sight of yet another screen of screens. It’s worth ten minutes of your attention though. Use the time you would have spent tending to your sourdough starter, when we used to do that sort of thing!
You can watch The Man At The Bottom Of The Garden below: