April 22nd 2014 05:20
Aaron Wilsonís debut Canopy (2014) is a riveting tale of a lone fighter pilotís survival in wartime, 1942. Shot down over Singapore, Jim (Khan Chittenden) wakes disoriented, suspended in a treetop. Meticulously he must re-orient himself and take all measures to avoid being captured. After working alone to lay the groundwork for his immediate survival, he meets a frightened young Chinese soldier, Seng (Mo Tzu-Yi), with whom he gradually builds a tentative trust and rapport. Working in unison, they must combat the harshness of the natural world as well as evade the invading, ever-present Japanese forces.
Wilsonís film, which he also wrote, is an audacious and brave first feature. Limiting his characters, who are unable to communicate verbally, to a single location requires a lot of creativity to prevent Canopy from literally and figuratively bogging down in the murky surrounds. He takes chances narratively, and for the most part, they pay off handsomely. The film is a genuinely immersive experience, establishing a raw intensity and tension in the early scenes; our confused perspective mirrors that of Jim who soon gets his bearings using his small but essential pack of emergency supplies and equipment.
The decision to mute Jim by denying him all but a few whispered intonations of his own name to his companion - no exasperated outbursts or cries of rage, frustration or surrender - may seem a peculiar one. Yet, the longer the film goes on, the idea gains dramatic weight as we watch the pair becoming sealed in the vortex of their intimate, shared experience. The jungle becomes a place in which they must bridge their circumstances with a shared humanity; a place in which words would seem extraneous anyway.
The convincingly physical performances from Chittenden and Mo are strong but the ultimate success of the film can be attributed, largely, to the stunning sound design, which is amongst the most effective Iíve ever heard. A barrage of loud, piercing sound effects of war, emerging from both close at hand and lingering in the distance, are constant, nerve-wracking reminders of an inescapable context for Jim and Seng. Canopy, a co-production with Singapore, was publicly funded within Australia as well. Regardless of its limited budget, itís an impressive film, one that will likely signal the beginning of a promising career for the highly talented Wilson.
Canopy opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, April 24, 2014.