Distressing Images ★★★ 3/4 Bolton International Film Festival

Distressing Images ★★★ 3/4 Bolton International Film Festival

Samuel Dawes excellent short Distressing Images is a fascinating showcase of how paranoia can ruin a relationship with your partner and your entire family. The absorbing film puts a parent’s worst fears into the world about their child.

A content moderator for a social media site begins to suspect his young son is hiding violent tendencies when their family pet is mysteriously wounded.

Being a content moderator looks like the most straightforward job in the world. You just sit down and judge whether a video harms anyone who views it or breaches the terms of the agreement from that website. The reality, though, is something far different; with more and more articles coming out about the psychological damage being caused to moderators due to a prolonged time watching these decisions, the job becomes unsustainable.

With Ed, you can almost see how he has gotten to the point of laxness and worse of all, the videos he watches are just the norm for him now. If he isn’t leaning in to watch a man get set on fire, he is spending his time at night watching the grim stories in the news. He is stuck in a vicious cycle of violence and pain without realising it. But once his young son sees one video he should not have due to Ed not locking his door, he fears the worst when their pet cat, Pesto, is horribly harmed.

As a parent, you have this fear of your child seeing things they should not. It’s the reason the parental controls became such a huge thing if you consider how terrible some content is on the internet. So, Ed investigates, and sure enough, Max’s attitude and how nonplussed he is about Pesto’s accident is a concern. However, as we soon find out, there is far more under the surface in Samuel Dawes short film Distressing Images. Here we have a film that inexplicably shows you the dangers of watching such videos and what they can do to a person.

Michael Socha is great here as our stressed-out and paranoid father. He is so certain that his son caused the damage to their cat because of that one video, to the point that it begins to consume him. It gets to the point that when his newborn daughter is in the room with him while he reviews content, he turns her face away from the screen. Thinking that the images she sees as a 9-month-old will mould her into the monster he believes his son is starting to become. Socha wants the best for his family, but that one loose thread in his life is something that he cannot help but pull at. He needs to know his son did what he suspects, and the growing concern on his face in Distressing Images etches itself into your head. His ability to pull you into his emotional state is keenly felt more than ever here.

Keeping you on the edge of your seat, Distressing Images has you on Ed’s side the whole way. When he asks himself, “Is this normal?” you are thinking along those same lines. Why isn’t Max concerned about their cat? Why does he seem distant? But then, at the same time, it has also second-guessed Ed. Has he watched too many of these videos to keep a logical line of thought? Has he been so skewed by violence and anger in what he sees for hours at a time that he can only imagine the worst?

This is a smartly written short film, with some great performances from Socha and Chanel Cresswell. You believe this family could fall apart anytime because of how far Ed has allowed his paranoia to take over him – a terrific short that has something to say about our relationship with violent content.

The Bolton International Film Festival is running physically from October 4th – 8th and Online from the 11th – 22nd October. For more information please click here.

★★★ 3/4

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