Director: James Cotter
Cast: Ben Gilbert, Emily Holyoake, Julian Seagar
Plot: Alexander (Gilbert) is a reclusive loner, struggling with a tragic past, when he bumps into an old friend (Holyoake), who might just be able to coax a smile out of him.
It is no mistake that Josh Merritt has based his script around two people waiting for a train in a deserted train station. The train symbolism is bursting from the screen, as you dive into James Cotter’s charming directional debut. The obvious one to discuss is the concept of leaving one station to get to an unknown destination. The train passing through at the end of Delays Imminent, of course, refers to more than a simple mode of transport, but a symbolic departure of Alexander’s old life, his old self. However, the symbolism that really shines from Delays Imminent is more to do with the concept of people watching. As we settle into Delays Imminent, there is a remarkable similarity between watching these characters go about their day and watching strangers interacting on a train station. This idea is elevated by the fact that, by the end of this movie, we still have little idea as to the nature of Alexander’s distress, or even who Alexander is. What is the connection between Alex and Sarah? Alex treats her like the girlfriend who got away, yet there is a distance to them that suggests otherwise. As a result, Delays Imminent’s biggest strength is the playfulness of trying to pin down these two characters. Merritt’s script impresses through its evasiveness and obscure plot, while James Cotter’s direction keenly highlights this, perhaps inspired by the director questioning if, when ground down to its nuts and bolts, this is what movie-watching is: people-watching.
Perhaps we could argue the vague card is played too heavily. The script has the right amount of mystery, so while we don’t fully understand why these characters are feeling what they are feeling, we connect with them regardless. However, perhaps this idea bleeds too much into the camerawork. Cotter’s cinematography pays close attention to the faces of its characters. Most of Delays Imminent is spent zoomed in on the various characters and their expressions. At first, the camerawork impresses. Every little beat of the performances are picked up on and there are moments you wonder if the same effect would be had if the camera hadn’t used that exact close-up. There is also one beautiful tracking shot that sees Alexander wander down a quiet lane and interact with the various inhabitants (including a cheeky cameo from Cotter himself). Yes, in terms of quality, I cannot fault the cinematography. But as the short enters its second half, a few might tire of the vagueness of the story. Because there is no sense of the wider world, because of these tight shots, the story feels very closed in, trapped. Perhaps this is another directorial choice by James Cotter, echoing the mental state of its lead hero. However at the same time, these guerrilla, in-their-face shots confuse. It is a common problems with shorts. There is so much story to pack into seven minutes that by the time you get your bearings with the characters, themes and plot (which is arguably harder when so much is purposefully held back from you), the story is already about to end and you feel no wiser as to what you witnessed. These tight angles also reduce poor Julian Seagar’s role down to a single frame. You can see the concept behind the choice to do this, but it also means that Delays Imminent never quite settles.
Which brings us to the central couple. Ben Gilbert’s Alexander cleverly compliments the script and direction. There is a sense that he is always on the verge of speaking out, yet is too timid to act upon his impulse. It is beautifully frustrating to watch him interact with his co-star. Occasionally the briefest of smiles flashes across Ben Gilbert’s face, as he shows the character beginning to enjoy himself. Then, as soon as it appears, Gilbert robs the character of his happiness, conveying the sense that Alexander believes himself unworthy. It is a wonderfully restrained performance, especially on an actor most common for portraying hulking Jason in Jason and the Argonauts on stage or the alpha male in the Scareycrows feature film. However, in being that character that fills the blank spaces of the film, it paves the way for Emily Holyoake to shine as Sarah. With Gilbert fixed on broody, Holyoake goes for fun. Seeing as the short is focused on personal tragedy and insecurities, Holyoake comes as a breath of fresh air. Her dialogue is smart and snappy, whether she slips some French into the conversation or quotes pop culture. It is easy to see why Alexander is often giving Sarah the puppy dog eyes behind her back. These films work best when there is a light at the end of the tunnel (oh look, more train metaphors), and Cotter’s keen direction makes sure that Holyoake embodies that potential happily ever after.
Final Verdict: James Cotter keeps Delays Imminent charming and heart-warming, a challenge with the subject material. A resounding success for his debut.