The opening shot Rotten It’s one that has a whole story. The introduction is simple but powerful, where we see three figures from above, all unknown to us, lying in a field. If he hadn’t stood up to survey the scene, never uttering a single word and never acknowledging himself, they could almost have passed for a throwaway action figure. The precise details underlying this brief introductory sequence will be understood only after the film unfolds before us and returns to an echo of this moment. However, this is part of the writer-director’s feature film debut Miles Warren he expands on this in his poetic short of the same name.
It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Rotten it’s a film that looks at the dangers of growing up when the people who guide you have wandered and fallen as much in the realm of life as you have. Just as he discovers something tragic in the power of anger and fear to be passed down from generation to generation, moments of beauty also take time. It is a work that immerses us in the enduring complications of what it means to be young.
This is primarily seen through the eyes of shy 14-year-old Darious (Jalyn Hall) who is trying to find his way in the world. During her break from boarding school, this mostly means wanting to connect with her friends, video calling her now-away-from-school crush, and asking her father Malcolm in vain (Shamier Anderson) to get a new bike that is bigger than her and learn to ride with her mom Monica (Shinelle Azaroh) looking at him. However, while all this is happening, he is also struggling to open up about his feelings.
As typical teenage problems seem, like when his mother bristles at his playful interest in his crush, there is a growing sense that Darious feels lost and alone. When he engages in a brief but violent fight with another local kid who is bigger than him, Warren starts shooting from a distance before getting closer and closer, so we feel every blow, even if we don’t always fully see it. contact, then it goes on its own. It is there that Darious finds Porter, who lives on the boat (Trevante Rhodes) who offers advice and support when he is at his lowest level. The two begin to form a bond that leads to a more complicated history as their meeting turns out to be much more than a chance encounter.
Getting into the details of what this unexpected revelation is about is far more important than how it’s presented. More than a narrow aspect ratio that works perfectly with the photographer’s rich visuals Justin Derry and the composer’s evocative score Robert Ouyang Rusli, it’s the delicate manner in which the key moments play out that ensures it goes beyond gritty honesty. Above all, the scenes where we see Darious and Porter alone together are what make the film stand out.
Whether it’s debating the best way to fight or the exhilarating time spent at a brightly colored fair, it creates a fleeting naturalism that won’t last forever. There’s a quiet tension in these sequences that hides the darkness that Rhodes carries with him that gives the character real charm and meaning. We get this in brief snapshots of her past, which she reveals only because she wants to connect with Darious or because she doesn’t depend on others to describe it. The film, then, is set against Malcolm and how the two men are more alike than they would like to admit.
Although each has taken different paths in life, that matters little when push comes to shove and both men try to outmuscle the other. This is not a strength, but simply their weaknesses masquerading as toughness. Caught in the middle of this is Darious, who is trying to find someone to help him deal with life’s challenges, only to discover that the two male figures in his life don’t have many answers either. As he tries to forget everything while riding on a ferris wheel with Porter – a classic setting for many films before this one – this one soon brings the bittersweet darkness that creeps up on you.
How many glimmers of life can be found in the happy memories Darious is making, they are forever faint. A simple conversation with Porter turns complicated when he awkwardly starts saying that he cares about her and wants to be there. The thing is, she feels like Darious needs more than just being with her. Still, it’s a quiet scene that offers a glimpse of what might be. Then when Malcolm shows up and this moment is shattered, it’s Darious who has to pick up the pieces.
Then the burden he tries to carry, which at one point is literally represented, is too much. What makes the film work is that it never lets such weights drag it down, keeping the light on its feet and turning elegant when we least expect it. Whether it’s watching the world speed by as characters ride motorcycles or everything slows down in the chaos of a fight, Warren shows great patience in letting these moments linger. When everything comes back to the moment we saw it at the beginning, now viewed from a more established perspective based on the wisdom of the need to grow quickly, there is a sense of hope for the future. What is possible for the young Darious and what we all sense is a re-imagining re-entry. However Rotten it doesn’t offer an easy resolution, it’s a beautiful work that deals with fatherhood, masculinity and growing up, coming across as a gem of cinematic error.
Rotten It is now available to stream on Hulu.