Reviewed by Rebecca Zantjer
This review is part of double feature on the film Harmony. Please check out Dawn Davis’s account of producing Harmony.
Harmony (2013). United States, 5 minutes. Directed by Logan Kibens. Starring: Dawn Davis, Chris Kerson, and Monkey the Cat.
You should watch Harmony. Twice.
I say this not only because the film is short and compelling, but also because Harmony is filled with small, foreshadowing details that can go unnoticed during the first viewing. The main character is a clairvoyant nurse who says she can “see things before they happen” and, on the second viewing, Harmony affords its viewers the same privilege. The entire film can be read as a play on perspective— particularly perspectives on positionality, sequencing, and time. Viewing the film twice allows the audience to be “in” on the subtle predicting moves the film makes and— if you’re like me — you’ll find yourself pointing at the screen and saying “aaaah” more than once.
Harmony advertises itself as a thriller and— in a little over four minutes — lives up to its claims in ways that awed me. The filmmakers used quick scene cuts, suspenseful music, and beautiful cinematography to draw me into the plot of the film in ways that I did not expect. When I finished watching Harmony for the first time, I instantly felt the need to rewatch it because of the ways the editing had built up to what was a meaningfully anti-climactic ending. This left me feeling the need for more of the story: I wanted to know more about the characters and wanted to see if I could glean more clues about their fate after the screen faded-to-black.
What I see as (part of) Harmony’s brilliance is the way the combination of writing/directing/and acting created believable, empathetic and terrifying characters and staged them in an environment that was cohesive and tangible— all in 240 seconds. While I’m going to spend the remainder of this review talking about what I think contributed to this effect, the honest reason for why I’m recommending Harmony is that I’m not entirely sure what makes it work. It has a certain kind of cinematic magic that I’m sure can be quantified and pieced out concretely, but I’m not exactly sure what that is at the moment. If you have any ideas after watching the film yourself, let me know.
That being said, here are my top three reasons for why I watched Harmony twice (or, you know, five or six times):
I think part of what caused this lingering interest in the film was the phenomenal screenwriting of Warren Fast. The sequencing of scenes and the choice of where to end the story leaves the audience with just enough information to be curious about what happens next and with just enough mystery that it makes contemplating the film’s meaning an intellectual challenge.
The central character, Elle, is played by Dawn Davis (who, coincidentally, produced the film and has written an absolutely fantastic piece about what motivated her to make Harmony). Davis does a tremendous job of constructing a believable character, even though the majority of the spoken lines in the film come from voice overs. Although she plays the part of a clairvoyant nurse (an experience that is unrelatable to most audiences) she uses her voice over narratives and acting to show vulnerability, confusion, acceptance, and fear— emotions that make her believable and beautifully ordinary in spite of her gift.
3. Monkey the Cat
If one day I can act half as well as this cat, I will consider myself victorious. I don’t know how the filmmakers trained Monkey (or maybe he’s a natural?) to convey so much emotion in his eyes, but his presence definitely added a layer of warmth to the film. Monkey is described in the film as being “sensitive” and the ways in which Monkey was filmed helped make that description believable. Throughout the film the audience is asked to view scenes from the cat’s level and— in one particular scene — look into Monkey’s eyes. The camera work and shot composition were really well done and leveraged Monkey’s natural stage presence to turn the cat (who could have easily become just another prop) into a bona fide character.
In my analysis of Davis’ and Monkey’s acting, I don’t want to unintentionally snub Chris Kerson who played a difficult and demanding role well. The entire time he’s on screen I was legitimately terrified— which is, again, a testament to this film’s ability to create realistic characters in a short time sequence. The approximately 90 seconds he’s on screen are perhaps the most emotionally charged of the entire short, and both Kerson and Davis act that scene with bravery and conviction. Kerson’s ability to develop such a character in so short a time span is truly remarkable and is central to Harmony’s success as a film.
So you should go watch Harmony. Watch it twice. Watch it for details. And watch it when you’re prepared to invest emotionally in characters you’ll only meet for a few minutes.
And when you’re done watching, feel free to share your thoughts about the film’s composition, its storytelling arc, and/or what you think happens next with the agnes community. While I’m glad to share my thoughts, I would be even more glad to learn from you what— and how — Harmony means.
To learn more about Harmony watch the film’s trailer or follow Dawn Davis’ Tumblr blog that shows the behind-the-scenes making of Harmony. Her blog does an excellent job of documenting all the work that went into making this short. If you’re interested in filmmaking— especially producing — you’ll definitely want to check out her posts.