East End Film Festival: Dead Slow Ahead – Review

When watching a documentary audiences can take what is before them as undisputed truth. A documentary is still a piece of film. Its carries the thoughts, feelings, and even bias of its makers. A stylized documentary can sometime feel strange to an audience yet in documentary/drama Dead Slow Ahead, the director/writer has created a narrative from astounding visuals.

Dead Slow Ahead, despite its horror title, is a documentary set upon a freight boat. The camera watches the work and life of the crew on board as the vessel makes its way around the world. The crew on board become ever more dominated and consumed by the machinery creating an atmospheric piece of film.

The Spanish documentary drama is written and directed by Mauro Herce in his directorial debut. Him and his sound engineer lived for almost three months upon the vessel and captured life aboard for its crew. Yet the film goes beyond merely just observation of workers. Herce has used the visuals to create a concept within the film.

Instead of following a narrative structure or style, the film watches the freight drift on. Different locations and scenes play out as the crew go on with their work and every place is given long beautifully capture scenic shots, from deserted ice lands to cloud filled ocean views.

Only towards the end do any of the crew talk, either together at social gathering or more commonly on the phone to their loved ones.

The film is a comment on post-industrial society, from machinery aiding our production to taking the human place in the line.  The boat controlled and manned by machines. The crew are filmed in a way that makes them feel consumed by the freight around them, calling to the outside world with less of a response as time goes on.

The approach that has been taken with this film is by far its most interesting trait. The film uses elements of horror, sci-fi and film noir in its aesthetic. The camera has an almost pursuing approach to its visuals. It bends and swerves as if following an unseen subject creating edges and angels. The industrial noises of machinery and waves create a palpable heartbeat that builds creating anticipation then suddenly stopping.

The shots are often lit with green and red, feeling as if an alien abduction is imminent at any time. Finally smoke and shadows from the running machinery is highlighted in the camera work giving the film it;s noir feel.

Despite the film’s comment and beautiful visuals it lacks an emotional attachment. This can mainly be attributed to its lack of characters. The minimal human presence can be seen as a way to demonstrate the machinery taking over message but it also staggers the film as a whole. Titanic this isn’t but the tone and imagery create a piercing experience if lacking emotional connection.

Visually astounding yet emotionally non-engaging, the films lack of human characters leaves a void in this visceral and beautifully shot piece.


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