Road-trip movies and their universal themes of alienation, anarchy and physical brutality have been around for a while. A lot of them stick out, especially those that go beyond the basic road-trip plot line. Be it Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, a film noir that follows its characters on the road, or Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider with its country setting and exploration of the United States in the 1960s, road-trips have an alluring effect on the viewer. It’s either that prominence of feeling lost while driving on a highway, or its polar opposite, i.e. the freedom that comes with the appeal of the unknown destination.
Richard Prendergast’s short film debut Sylvia falls into this genre category as it trails Mandy (Jolie Lennon) with her two daughters and mother as they drive to someone’s home to sell their car named Sylvia. This film could have been yet another mainstream road-trip movie, but instead it leaves its viewers stuck and feeling confused as they’re facing an ending based on real life events that they didn’t expect to witness. This unforeseen reaction doesn’t connect to the ending’s plot twist (spoiling would be such a shame) per se, but to the emotional blow dealt by the final 4 minutes. It all comes together with Jack Clayton-Wright’s precise editing and Jolie Lennon’s performance as the cryptically gloomy Mandy.
Perhaps Sylvia’s most praiseworthy asset, however, is Rowan Biddiscombe and Tom Coe’s cinematography. Their use of two different color palettes for two different modes of reality is so subtle that it’s only after the end’s big reveal that this connection is made. While bright and sunlight colors with red details frame at least half of Prendergast’s short film, grey and generally melancholic hues predominate the screen in Sylvia’s ending. A skillful change on the part of the cinematographers as most viewers will fall for their trap: instead of seeing it as the visual manifestation of Mandy’s psychology, it’s perceived as the daylight fading into night until it’s crystal clear that it’s about the effects that final sunset awaiting every living soul has on other people.