A Short, Flawed Sports Film With a Big Heart – The Energy Within (Film Review)

With 2018’s Winter Olympics having befallen and the Winter Paralympics coming up, Samuel De Ceccatty’s short sports film, The Energy Within, couldn’t have come at a better time. And while its performances aren’t always on full sprint and its script a little wobbly at times, it’s mostly a feel-good success for the director and its first-time star, British Paralympian Stefanie Reid.

Reid plays Julie who, recovering from a devastating injury to her leg, has the ambition to take up where she left off, partaking in her passion: competitive running. While this leads her to a local coach (Daniel Adegboyega), she faces a number of setbacks, in the shape of her fellow athletes looking down upon her as an ‘invalid’, as well as the physical demands that begin to take a toll on Julie’s body.

Yet this gives rise to an inspirational story, inspired by its star’s own life. Reid takes on her first film role in The Energy Within and gives it her all, imbuing it with a sense of personal experience that helps make the story a bit more believable than its sentimental quality may allow it. It is true that the script is riddled with clichés from uplifting films past. Julie seems to have the world pitted against her, the ultimate narrative technique to encourage an audience to root for a hero. But considering that this film is based in some sense of truth, this can be forgiven for all of its higher aspirations.

This message of The Energy Within is its centrepiece and De Ceccatty is able to communicate it effectively. With some emotionally stimulating camerawork from Adam Suschitzky and an evocative score from Ollie Howell, De Ceccatty’s general aesthetic feels like the equivalent of an artistically-inclined Sports Relief ad. This is no criticism: it’s a fitting comparison in fact, designed to motivate those in a similar position to Reid, to take the chance to compete. No one would argue that this isn’t a worthy cause and the fact that The Energy Within relays this without pretension is praiseworthy.

Not all of it works however. Aasiya Shah’s performance as Julie’s neighbour and local musician Atia is a little wooden. She goes for the plucky millennial but instead comes across as awkward in her interactions with our protagonist. Furthermore, it ends rather abruptly. I would have welcomed an epilogue of sorts, charting Julie’s subsequent rise to the Paralympics perhaps, paralleled to Reid’s own success: this would have provided the strong catharsis that the film needs, one that its current conclusion lacks to its full effect.

But it’s an enjoyable film nonetheless. While it may not have the strength to live on as a short sports film for the ages, The Energy Within does what it says on the tin: it tells its story with its heart placed firmly on its sleeve, bathing in the joy of seeing Julie, and to an extent Reid, rise up from uncertainty in order to take a place on the track. A recommendable companion piece to the impending Paralympics.

Dir: Samuel De Deccatty

Scr: Samuel De Deccatty

Cast: Stefanie Reid, Daniel Adegboyega, Aasiya Shah

Prd: Manon Ardisson, Paul Jibson

DOP: Adam Suschitzky

Music: Ollie Howell

The Energy Within premieres online 23rd March 2018