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Film Review: You're On Your Own, Kid

You're On Your Own, Kid is a short film written, directed, and produced by Michael Matsui. The film begins with an image of a model house, slowly moving towards it, revealing that this will be the main setting of the film's events. By establishing this visual cue with the audience, the filmmaker shows that we are entering a world of imagination, fantasy, and nightmare. Each film creates its own unique world and it is through the film's adherence to its cues and implications that events can be accepted and believed. Something similar to Suspension of disbelief. Therefore, any event can be deemed believable as long as the film properly sets up its so-called contracts with the audience. With this clever and well-thought-out beginning, the film introduces its world to the audience: a world of metaphor and fantasy. If we were shown a real image of the outside of the house instead, the impact of the subsequent scenes would have been completely different. Therefore, this beginning has fundamental importance.

The camera slowly enters the house, and the set design convinces us that we are inside a story. Right from the start, we see terrifying faces among the toys on the table. The gradual approach of the camera to the table, along with the sound design and these dolls, acquaints us with anxiety and fear. The director skillfully creates the atmosphere and within just a minute of the film's start, we are already familiar with this world. The creepy animation shown on the TV behind the characters is also effective in this setting. The main character, Sophia, and her mother are sitting at a table playing. In this moment, Sophia asks her mother about monsters. Therefore, the filmmaker meticulously arrangs everything to provide a suitable foundation for the story to unfold. In the first third of the film, we see another reference to the house. The same model house that was shown in the opening shot is now seen as one of the objects in the room. In front of it lie a fallen doll and a toy police car. Through this well-crafted set design, it foreshadows a bitter and gruesome ending. The house is not only represented as a mock-up in the girl's bedroom but also in a painting on the wall above her bed. In this painting, we see a mother and daughter in front of the house, with the daughter's face clear but the mother's face sketchy. Another subtle warning that the filmmaker has cleverly placed for us. Considering that at the beginning of the film, we saw the mother pretending to be a monster and scaring Sophia, now seeing this painting on the wall and that fallen doll in front of the model house adds new meanings. The audience is left wondering if what threatens the child's life is not a terrifying monster but rather the mother herself? The presentation of this question in the audience's mind is beautifully done, stemming from the precise arrangement of script elements and its calculated execution.

Director Michael Matsui

All the elements and characteristics we are familiar with in a horror film are present here: fear of darkness, a child's loneliness in the face of the unknown, fear of strangers living alongside us posed as familiar faces, and of course, the house, a place that may be haunted. All these tropes have their own function in the film's narrative. The doll we initially see in Sophia's arms is later standing behind the door in the room. The house we see at the beginning of the film is meant to reappear in another scene, and the red light that is initially shone on the refrigerator behind Su Su's mother's back, leading us to believe it might have a source in that room, is seen coming from under the door in another scene. Therefore, by creating parallels, the film sensitizes us to the story elements. The fear that is a part of childhood nightmares can also be traced back to reality. The filmmaker brilliantly emphasizes the dual nature of the source of this fear. Are monsters real or are they just childish fears? This polarity is well executed in the film: We may feel that all the events unfolding are the thoughts and fantasies of Sophia, including her belief that monsters are planning to separate her from her mother and take her away. The film initially gives these fantasies a tangible aspect but at the same time creates doubt that everything we see could simply be products of Sophia's mind. The film beautifully works with elements that were set up from the beginning.

Let's look at the role that the flashlight plays in the narrative. Before Sophia goes to sleep, and because of her fear, her mother gives her a flashlight so that whenever she is scared, she can see that there is nothing to be sacred of in the darkness. Later, when the monster takes the mother into the dark room, Sophia uses the same flashlight to see what's in the darkness. But instead of dispelling Sophia's fear, the flashlight more so proves to her that she was right about the monsters lurking in the darkness and that there really is a monster hidden in the heart of darkness. The clever and dual use of the flashlight is as brilliant as the use of the house itself (as a safe place meant to protect one from external dangers). The great ending of the film, which we do not intend to spoil here, shows that having a very strong screenplay can be the best roadmap. A roadmap that helps the filmmaker to take each step with more precision and power. We have a brilliant screenplay here that has been masterfully brought to life. You're On Your Own, Kid is a metaphorical and symbolic film that ultimately deals with tangible realities of everyday life, and its intelligent ending reminds the viewer that not only can a horror film be very sophisticated, but ultimately it can unveil a painful and bitter reality. The horror of the film sets the stage for reaching a meaning that is inherently much more terrifying than typical horror monsters, plunging the viewer into deep thought.


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