The Crescent

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Crescent
"Graves gives the most compelling performance by an infant actor since Elle Fanning in 2004'sThe Door In The Floor."

"This is the rake that makes the pattern," Beth (Danika Vandersteen) explains to her toddler son Lowen (Woodrow Graves) when she's showing him how marbling is done.

"That's the Crescent, out there," says young Sam, pointing it out to Beth: the arc of rocks beneath the sea that curves around the whole bay, smashing up ships from time to time, making the pattern that shapes the waves.

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Beth and Lowen have come to the beach house to recover after the loss of her husband, his father, in an accident. She makes art. He plays in the sand, drives his toys cars around the polished wooden floors and, from time to time, asks where daddy is. He's at that age where everything merits questions. She's patient, doing her best, and frazzled, of course. When a strange man on the beach invites her boy to go into the sea with him, she reacts in an instant, declaring that it's nap time. She doesn't even like Lowen talking to Sam, the girl who wanders the beach picking up debris.

The Crescent is likely to impact you very differently depending on whether or not you've ever been responsible for a small child. For those who have, there is a sense of terror right from the start. Director Seth A Smith knows exactly how to trigger that learned hypervigilance that never quite goes away. We see Lowen's small feet make their way clumsily along the raised edge of a flowerbed - what if he falls and hits his head on the concrete? What if he eats the tape he's playing with? What if the tricycle he's found takes him over the edge of the top stair? These are the sort of moments that can make every day scary, but when concentrated, they contribute to a sense of foreboding echoed by the lonely stretch of sand, the unceasing rhythm of the waves, and the curious noise, like a distant foghorn, that sounds in the night. Beth is behaving strangely, in little ways. Although he's too young to have a concept of death, Lowen seems to know that something is wrong. Is he safe with her?

Daddy looks out from photographs: the three of them in yellow lifejackets, together on a boat, smiling. Beth longs to go to him.

Graves gives the most compelling performance by an infant actor since Elle Fanning in 2004's The Door In The Floor. Shots are carefully chosen, a clear effort having been made to avoid traumatising him for the sake of getting results, and as a consequence we see something much more subtle and complex. During scenes when his mother is absent, Lowen makes a concerted effort to take care of himself, climbing around in the kitchen to reach food, even managing to answer the phone. Even at this age, he strives to take control of his own destiny. But he has a degree of vulnerability we never normally see in films. Because Graves makes us believe in him as a person, a character in his own right and not just a prop for adult actors, we are invited to identify with this.

Like the paint in the water, like the hermit crab Lowen finds on the beach, this is a film that keeps revealing more layers. But why does Sam warn Beth that someone is watching her child? Who are the people who gather on the beach at night? Though the final sequence might lay on explanations a bit too thickly for those who have been paying attention, Smith has more twists to add than you might expect, all the way up to the final shot. His inventive yet never intrusive framing is full of curving patterns and arcs. Follow him too closely and you'll find yourself back at the beginning.

Reviewed on: 04 Aug 2018
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After an unexpected death in the family, a mother and son struggle to find spiritual healing at a beachfront summer home.

Director: Seth A Smith

Writer: Darcy Spidle

Starring: Danika Vandersteen, Woodrow Graves, Terrance Murray, Britt Loder

Year: 2017

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: Canada

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