I’ve never seriously contemplated walking out of a movie theatre; consequently I’ve sat through the entirety of some truly execrable films. Yet halfway through Short Term 12, I strongly considering getting up and leaving the cinema.
Short Term 12 takes its name from the foster care facility that serves as its primary setting, and is filmed with the loose, handheld camerawork and natural light that characterises modern indie filmmaking. By no means is it a terrible movie; in fact, it’s amazing. It’s also incredibly emotionally raw, stirring up feelings so potent that they made me physically uncomfortable. The BIFF program’s description of Short Term 12 as “both heart-warming and heartrending” is spot-on.
What rends the heart so powerfully isn’t just the consistently superlative performances, or those moments of undisguised – but not exaggerated – emotion, as a young man (Keith Stanfield, outstanding) recites a heartbreaking rap, or as a young girl (Kaitlyn Dever) digs her nails ever deeper into her skin. It’s the way the film doesn’t treat grief, or depression, or anxiety, or fear as a vehicle for catharsis, but recognises that it’s a dark vein that throbs beneath one’s skin; a malevolence that can be suppressed but never truly defeated.