Matt stares at the padlocked cabinet in his bathroom. Its contents a mystery. Its power overwhelming. Its fear palpable. The only person that holds the key to the padlock is Matt’s partner, Julie. On one night, the key is turned in the lock and the truth about their relationship is unleashed. Written and directed by Ben S. Hyland, co-written by Jonathan Young and starring Valmike Rampersad (Mile End, London Life), Gina Bramhill (Brief Encounters, Sherlock), Antonia Bernath (Downton Abbey, The Astronaut Wives Club, St. Trinians) and Rebecca Grant (Holby City, Doctors).
Domestic abuse may be an issue that does appear on screens but very rarely does it ever portray men being abused by their wives or girlfriends. Padlock is a worthy exception to that, finally shedding a little bit of light onto an issue that a lot of people are much too unaware. It’s also rich storytelling, the viciousness of manipulation by Julie, played by both Bramhill and Bernath, is almost horrifying, pushing past what you might think one person is capable of, possessing sheer cruelty. Bernath gets to take on that side of Julie and does extremely well, the pure fact that you will dislike her character the second she begins to shift her tone is a show of great work. Bramhill may get the lighter side of things but still does an equally good job, though they not working together on screen, manage to flawlessly merge their performances almost as though, if someone were to not watch carefully, they wouldn’t notice it was two different actresses, despite the extremely dramatic change of portrayal. Now that may sound odd but it’s vital as it makes Julie feel like one character, it doesn’t feel separated and conjoined, it feels like one story simply with multiple layers.
The basis of the story, the abuse, is revealed quickly and yet it manages to shroud itself in mystery with one simple lock, old-fashioned looking and significant, managing in one miniscule moment to raise unlimited questions of what it means, what lies behind it and what will happen when it’s finally unlocked. Thanks to great writing, the questions are not only answered in a way that is satisfying but in a way that is surprising and unusual, which despite being far from normal fits perfectly into the story. Not only that, the film is directed well, the camera stays close to Rampersad as Matt, creating an almost claustrophobic and vulnerable atmosphere, we’re seeing these events through his eyes. Rampersad’s performance is of course vital to the film and he does not disappoint, he gains your sympathy instantly and reflects his pain in every way possible from the way he speaks, to body language to the way he walks. The combining of every aspect, writing, directing, editing and acting, all come together in an intense and powerful way to put an important and captivating story in front of its audience.
Short film is never the easiest of mediums, especially when you’re attempting to tackle such an important issue but Hyland, the cast and crew have all done a great job, within a limited time opening audiences’ eyes to the unspeakable behaviour of some women to their partners. We may be pre-programmed by our environment: television, film or news to believe that abuse is primarily the same thing but that’s far from the truth, it affects people of all ages, genders and sexuality and it’s something more people need to be aware of. Not only has a great piece of film been created, it’s been made for the right reasons which is impossible not to have the utmost respect for. As a extra benefit, the film showcases some really fantastic title work, which although I don’t know the name of who made the graphics, they deserves real credit for giving the film that extra dash to a great opening sequence. Padlock is poignant, harrowing and important for audiences to see, while opening your eyes to a key issue, it’s also a superb short film which you need to see.