by Rita Aresta
Through pharmaceutical experimentation, Dr. Louis W has developed an opiate that can put an end to the rising suicide rates plaguing a desolate yet fast-approaching future. Terminally Happy begins in the middle of his final experimentation – on himself.
From its opening scene, with an ominously dissolving tablet in water and cool blue hues, you can predict the inevitable breakdown to follow. As one would expect from the synopsis, Dr. Louis (Alastair Mackenzie) is the lucky recipient of this concoction. As he walks around with a glass of water, dealing with seemingly mundane tasks – getting little Oscar (William Stagg) ready for school and dealing with irritable wife Evie (Emma Campbell-Jones) – the rising tension will have your heart rate over 100 by the halfway point.
I won’t spoon-feed you by going into any more plot details than that, but it burns surprisingly slowly for a short film, in an eerie and grief-stricken crescendo, so bittersweet it’s almost too much to bear when all / most of a sufficient number of pieces click together at the end. It feels like it’s over too soon – as yet we are left with so many questions. Why the suicide pandemic? Why is Louis doing this? Who ultimately benefits from this? Is he trying to change the past? What even happens to the present if you change the past? Why…?
“I’m ready to tell you my secret now”
The first thought that came into my head – and, I imagine, quite a few others – was Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. It was particularly reminiscent of the opening episode of the second series, “Be Right Back” and the famous “San Junipero”. Not unlike these, albeit half an hour (or so) shorter, Terminally Happy is also a cerebral sci-fi experiment – a very sentimental one. In all its asphyxiating glory, it manages to be heart-breaking without being farfetched, tragic but not over-dramatic, fragile yet audacious. The cast all deliver strong, believable performances; the cinematography is pleasantly minimalistic – truly, the real crime with this film is that it’s not long enough. (I know, that’s why it’s a short film. I know.)
Terminally Happy was the UK’s selection for the 2014 EuroConnection Market, followed by Berlinale Short Film Station. It also proved popular in 2016 film festivals, such as the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, Underwire Film Festival – where it was a nominee for the “Best Director” award – and the Global Short Film Awards, where it was also nominated.
I want to believe.
On a perhaps peculiar note, Terminally Happy was produced sustainably as part of Film London’s London Calling scheme in co-production with Norway. It was fully shot on location in Staplehurst, Kent – in Richard Hawkes’ Crossway Grand Designs eco-house. In fact, sustainability was at the forefront in every aspect of the production – even accommodation, catering, and crew transportation – from the pre-production stage, to the final creation. For such green initiative, it was nominated for The Observer Ethical Awards 2015, under the Film and Television category.
Ms. Istrate – if you’re out there, can we I please, please have a feature-length version of this film? Yours truly, Rita.
Dir: Adina Istrate
Scr: Adina Istrate
Cast: Alastair Mackenzie, Emma Campbell-Jones, William Stagg, Georgina Sowerby, Christopher Lawley, Kevin Golding
Prd: Giannina La Salvia
DOP: Eui Jeong Hong
Music: Adam Lori, Gernot Fuhrmann
Country: UK / Norway
Runtime: 13 mins
Pictures: courtesy of Toybox Films.
TERMINALLY HAPPY will be available to stream on Friday 2 March on Facebook