Richard Drumm sings the praises of January Hymn, Katherine Canty’s short film exploring grief.

Written and directed by Katherine Canty, January Hymn is a short film exploring grief. Specifically an examination of the intangibility of grief and how one experiences it. We are shown this through the subjective visuals of Clara (Niamh Algar) as she returns home for the anniversary of her father’s death. Arranged semi-linearly, the film offers us fragmentary moments and memories as Clara processes her situation. Numerous lingering shots, occasionally of abstract visuals, keep the viewer slightly detached from Clara’s experience. The often symmetrical, quite clean framing, further reinforces this separation of viewer and subject.

While it can be a slightly over-used term, it rarely feels as appropriate to call something quasi-Lynchian as it does here. The powerfully evocative visuals are strikingly stark, especially in their construction of simple images with a distinctly heightened sense of reality. Adding to the Lynch-like nature of the piece – aside from a penchant for ambiguously menacing shots of trees – is the sensation of watching it is akin to having someone attempt to explain their dream to you.

The sparse dialogue means we have to rely on Algar’s subtly expressive face as a guide for the emotional weight of the imagery. The combined effect of all of these deliberately distancing techniques is a powerful viewing experience and what feels like an authentic interpretation of grief, or rather an admirable attempt to abstract such a deeply personal experience into something more broadly emotionally relatable.

It’s undeniably a piece carried by mood, a mood anchored by Kate McCullough’s arresting cinematography. The atmosphere of ambiguity and uncertainty, while highlighting the emotional vulnerability of the protagonist, lends the film an almost horror-like quality. Unease permeates every shot and the loose temporal/spatial zone the film occupies means you’re never quite sure where it’s going. Haunting and memorable shots such as Clara and her aunt sitting at a table at the centre of a void of total blackness give proceedings a heightened and unnerving quality.

January Hymn is a bold and confident statement of intent from Katherine Canty. A highly engaging and opaque journey through grief, peppered with unsettling moments and imagery which genuinely linger long after the credits have rolled. Additionally, it’s another fine example of why Niamh Algar continues to be a formidable screen presence and absolutely a talent to keep a close eye on.

January Hymn is presently touring festivals with three upcoming showings at Still Voices in August and an appearance on 4th September at The Bleeding Pig Short Film Festival. Check out their online programmes for more details and follow @katherine_canty for updates.


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