Short Film Review: Innocence

Year: 2020
Runtime: 20 minutes
Director: Ben Reid
Writers: Ben Reid, Owen Gower
Stars: Tommy Jessop, Alice Lowe, Laurence Spellman

By Joan Amenn

Any parent of a developmentally disabled child will tell you the primary fear that keeps them up at night is what will happen to them when they are no longer alive to look after them. “Innocence” (2020) explores the world of group homes for adults with disabilities like the protagonist, Dylan (Tommy Jessup) who has Down Syndrome. Dylan’s brother James (Laurence Spellman) works at the home as an orderly as well and keeps an eye on Dylan. When a terrible crime summons the police to the home, the scrutiny uncovers some ugly secrets about the kind of life Dylan and the other residents have there.

Director Ben Reid has created an incredibly nuanced world in a film only twenty minutes long. We learn that Dylan is intellectually curious from the books he keeps by his bed, enjoys playing pool, and is capable of intense loyalty. Tommy Jessup is astonishing as a young man who lives a rich interior life as compared to his drab, seedy home that is consumed by schedules and rules. We learn from the police investigation that James was briefly jailed for a DUI and has worked at the home since his release. In other words, Dylan and his life came to the rescue of James by giving him the means to earn a living and get a handle on his drinking. This last issue seems to be a lingering problem which leads to a plot twist that will not be spoiled here.

Laurence Spellman in “Innocence” (2019) © Sweetdoh! 2019

“Innocence” is receiving recognition in many film festivals and deservedly so. It is the perfect showcase for Tommy Jessup to reveal the depth of his abilities.”

Alice Lowe plays the detective called to the home as a cool professional. When asked if she needs assistance in questioning Dylan she says, “I’ve dealt with his kind before.” This blind assumption that disabilities affect everyone who has them in the same way is infuriatingly common, but it is this very point that is crucial to the unexpected ending. The police interview between Lowe and Jessup is riveting, showing that he has more than sufficient acting ability to hold his own in a tense and moving exchange of dialog.

Alice Lowe in “Innocence” 2019 © Sweetdoh! 2019

“Innocence” is receiving recognition in many film festivals and deservedly so. It is the perfect showcase for Tommy Jessup to reveal the depth of his abilities. Mention should also be made of the cinematography of Paul Kirsop. His dim and almost claustrophobic shots of the group home are so effective in portraying the oppressive sense of limitations that Dylan and the other residents live with every day. Tommy Jessup proves the lie to the preconception that people with disabilities have greater limitations, however. He is destined for a bright future in film.

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