by Kirsty Jones
Hippopotamus is the debut feature from Edward Palmer; a story of captivity, or so we’re led to believe. Ruby wakes up in a cell, legs broken and face-to-face with her captor who tells her that she cannot leave until she falls in love with him. His threat is not sexual but emotional, which immediately jars against what we would expect. Men prey on women for control and sexual gratification, right? Not Thomas Allcroft… His demands are reminiscent of a Rumpelstiltskin-esque predicament, an unfair imprisonment of an innocent fair maiden. Tom repeats his lines, he’s done this before, so much so he’s ready with the questions Ruby has before she asks them.
These opening sequences of Palmer’s film are slow but methodical. As you begin to feel at ease with the gentle rhythm, a simple sequence of Ruby moving across the room before being caught turns the drama electrifying. She learns what she can, with the little at her disposal and just as we see an increase in tact and determination to get out, Tom is on to her and fights back with a bottle of pills, leaving her to wake once again with no memory.
Back to square one. Frustration. Remorse. Now what? We see the cycle repeat, the same routine, the same words from Tom, the same reaction from Ruby. The realisation that this may have happened countless times before makes that uneasy feeling I’ve got deepen. But it’s in one encounter with her captor when Ruby’s demeanour changes and she flicks Tom an insincere smile, the prospect of flirting for freedom becomes real and sickening all at the same time. What lengths will she have to go to in order to escape? With each chapter, we see another layer of the story unfold until ultimately, we’re left questioning the roles we were so sure about at the start.
Shooting a one-room feature film is a difficult prospect that only a few have truly succeeded in. Palmer tackles the task in a measured way, instead of filling the runtime with unnecessary dramas the story ebbs and flows in a control way. The cinematography plays as much of a part in the reluctant progression of the narrative as the two leads, spanning the small space giving us a to-and-fro perspective. All the while, the captee and the captor navigate around each other in a way that is theatrical, dance-like. Both Invild Deila (Ruby) and Stuart Mortimer (Tom), have a huge weight on their shoulders as their performances, and the on-screen relationship between them, must carry the film. Not only do they pull it off, they are both incredibly enjoyable to watch.
Palmer’s feature film was developed from a short film of the same name, concept, and cast. Which to be frank, I would not have guessed, everything in Palmer’s plot seems intentional, I can’t imagine a shorter version having the same impact. Having said that, some of the back story that is revealed throws up more questions than they answer. And while the entire plot may not be water-tight, there’s a playfulness that comes across in Palmer’s crafting which holds great promise for his future projects. I’m looking forward to what this bright young director turns his hand to next.