Balloon

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Balloon
"Jeremy Merrifield takes a restrained approach as director, letting the story build up naturally."

These days we're increasingly aware of the damage that school bullying can do: the depression, anxiety and withdrawal it can cause. What's less often talked about is how disorientating it can be. Those targeted don't just get upset - they get filled up with rage which, if they're unwilling or unable to fight back, has nowhere to go. It can manifest in violent revenge fantasies or in dreams about acquiring special powers that might solve the problem - one of the reasons why superhero stories are so popular with young people. But what would having powers like that mean in reality.

Superhero origin stories often involve powers that develop during adolescence - natural enough, when the body is already changing in other ways, but no change at this stage in life comes easily. Back in the safety of his room after the latest bullying incident, young Sam (Jonah Beres) feels the rage building. He's so focused on his stress and what has caused it that he doesn't realise what's happening to him until his head hits the ceiling. He's been rising up off the floor like a balloon. The shock of the discovery precipitates a sudden fall.

A power like this might change everything, but there are complications. It takes focus and confidence to use it, and Sam doesn't have a great deal of the latter. Furthermore, he's always tried to avoid bullying by going under the radar. At's inevitable that this will draw attention to him. And there's one other thing - if the way people treat him suddenly changes, he won't be able to escape the awareness of how fickle they are.

Jeremy Merrifield takes a restrained approach as director, letting the story build up naturally and keeping us closely focused on its hero, who - at least initially - inhabits a very small world. Beres, who despite his youth has already built up quite an impressive portfolio - is an excellent choice for the lead, approaching the role in a quiet and thoughtful way that makes sense for a character who has probably spent much of his life alone. There's no showiness to his portrayal. This is a film that's interested in human rather than superhuman experiences.

Then there's a lingering question - despite what we see, is Sam's power real or is it simply in his imagination? In the end it seems less important than the change of perspective that accompanies it.

Balloon is a title that doesn't travel well. In Scotland it is itself a playground insult. Anybody who has encountered bullying will be able to relate to this boy, however, and Merrifield's film draws out the complexities of his experience in a way that might help others to understand.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2019
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A bullied boy who has always tried to avoid attracting attention discovers that he has a superpower.

Director: Jeremy Merrifield

Writer: Jeremy Merrifield, Dave Testa

Starring: Jonah Beres, Paul Scheer, Jaylin Ogle, Carson Severson

Year: 2019

Runtime: 16 minutes

Country: UK

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