The Ravine (2016). 13 minutes. Directed by Annabel Graham. Featuring: Annabel Graham, Augie Duke, Nathan Keyes, and Cliff Potts.
In her first film, The Ravine, director Annabel Graham explores the psychological weight of a location as it provides a pivot point between past and present and the living and the dead. The project, inspired by real events, is an impressive undertaking that matches gorgeous cinematography with a multi-faceted exploration of time, location, myth, and truth.
The Ravine compresses past and future into an uncertain present, where the viewer is introduced to lead characters Isabel and Lola, in a moment of revelry. The two high school friends are firmly positioned in the moment, joyfully recounting an evening of clubbing in Hollywood as their car winds through a dark road in the Malibu hills. The girls hold their own futures at bay in this exchange, ignoring their impending separation as college beckons. This lighthearted moment quickly changes as an aggressive car begins pursuing the girls.
From this point on, the short film opens several doors that could result in any number of resolutions. The aggressive vehicle following the girls casts the pair deeper into darkness and isolation—a foreboding set-up for danger. This peril exchanges itself for the specter of a flaming car along the road, presenting another warning sign. The weight of apprehension hangs in the air and grows as the two young women opt to park their car and survey the wreckage. The car that has been tailing them follows.
The film is beautifully shot. Greg Arch’s cinematography adds richness to the blackness of the night, contrasting the ochre flames of the wreck against the vast nothingness of the isolated location. This isolation, paired with the drunk men and flaming car, pin the moment to the earth—to this place which seems imbued with timeless tragedy. What has happened to the car (the past) and what will happen with the men (the future) are intimidations of the present moment.
As threats mount, Isabel’s memory trips. She thinks back to her father gathering silverware and throwing it into a swimming pool as a fire threatens to engulf his hillside home. The flames of her memory reunite with the flames of the wreckage. As she wanders away from the inferno, she’s again transported through memory to a time a decade earlier. She’s a young child, a passenger in her father’s convertible. He pulls to the edge of the road, points into a ravine, and beguiles the girl with tales of witches who inhabit the gorge.
Isabel moves back into the present, aware that she’s now standing on the precipice of the same gorge. Graham packs her short film with ambiguous moments, driving the narrative forward with mounting tensions. Rather than providing an obvious or predictable release from these mounting forces, Graham keeps her audience at attention. By the film’s end, it’s clear that the story isn’t about individual threats. Rather, the viewer is left pondering the relationship between gestures and location.
As a first-time filmmaker, Graham assembles a strong cadre of actors. Her direction paces the characters’ dialogue and weaves in moments of silence to strong, dramatic effect. Ultimately, the acting and direction enable the viewer to get lost in the story, while plot points insist on active viewership. The result is a thoughtful and engaging film.
The Ravine is a rumination on the power of place and memory. Graham’s direction and Arch’s cinematography unite to center the viewer in a place that is singular, beautiful, and ultimately, haunted.