Review of Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s The Arrival

Review by Danielle Winston

The Arrival (2017). United States, 17 minutes. Directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe. Featuring: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Michael McMillian, Elias Harger.

Still from the film

The Arrival is a melodramatic dark comedy short film with psychological horror overtones. The film draws the viewer in immediately and is definitely worth watching; Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe are wildly original talents who wrote, directed, and star in the film. The creative duo met while performing together at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City and founded Gulp Splash, a production company committed to making female-driven dark comedies.

The Arrival is DeBoer and Luebbe’s directorial debut. The story centers around a proper fifties couple, Arthur and Karen, who have just welcomed a new addition to their family. Everyone is thrilled… well, everyone, except the couple’s nine-year-old son, Thomas (played by Elias Harger). No longer the adorable source of familial attention, nothing is the same for Thomas. The presence of his sudden sibling has turned Thomas’s world upside down. It’s impossible for young Thomas to understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to the new baby. To Thomas’ point of view, the infant is massively overrated. Without saying a word, the baby has become the bully and Thomas the victim of its cruel intentions. Tormented by this new bundle of pain and frustration in his life, Thomas makes a secret wish, one that if it comes true, will forever alter his family dynamic on multiple levels.

The stylish look of The Arrival is enhanced by gorgeous fifties period costumes and exquisite antique furniture. Right away, we are aware of the film’s familiar eerie tone, reminiscent of classic horror films like The Bad Seed and The Omen; yet the film isn’t what we think it is. Just as we become lulled into a false sense of security, believing this is a certain type of picture (leaning toward horror), the proverbial rug is yanked out from under us and we discover we’re watching a farcical dark comedy. Within the threads of humor and darkness, the story gets us thinking about love and jealousy, more specifically: how we treat one another.  

Jocelyn DeBoer delivers a layered performance as a Karen, a mother trying to juggle a newborn and a young son; even when her so-called “normal” world gets tied in knots, DeBoer always manages to stay sympathetic and funny. Watching her navigate the tricky waters of motherhood is forever compelling; in an effortless way, DeBoer manages to bring us along on her freakshow ride, where we secretly hope she’ll survive this eerie tale unscathed.

Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s film is visually lush. The story is quirky and charming with delightfully demented twists. Another aspect that makes the film work so well is Elias Harger’s heartfelt performance as nine-year-old Thomas. Sympathetic or sneaky, he’s always engaging. With the slightest look, Harger manages to convey a range of emotions that subtly draw the viewer into his unfortunate but very human plight. As we sympathize and route for Thomas, his family’s world is turned upside down by another new arrival, the embodiment of Thomas’ wish. To say more about that wish would give away one of the film’s most clever twists so I’ll keep silent. I can say The Arrival is a pleasure to watch, as it manages to supply the viewer with equal levels of creepy, psychological, and funny moments throughout.

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