Review: Shared Document

Directed by Jessica Fostekew and written by co-lead Stuart Laws, a brother and sister (Phoebe Sparrow) try to remotely complete a eulogy for their Dad’s funeral unaware that an anonymous user is about to crash the document.

With everything that has gone on in 2020, it’s been a dreadful time for film but at the same time, it’s caused some filmmakers to get creative with their projects, to forge ahead in spite of the difficulties and make it work for them, which is what Fostekew and the team have done here, having made the short in April of this year. It’s a simple yet effective set-up of your typical video call within a split-screen, which is also shared with the titular document. It could be said that the document takes up more real estate on the screen than is entirely necessary, there are elongated stretches where nothing happens with it and the focus is solely on the actors. It takes a larger role later in the film, so could have potentially been altered to reflect that changing need rather than remaining the same throughout as it can feel slightly distracting at times.

Laws and Sparrow really click immediately into that sibling chemistry, the creation of this shared grief as well as the grievances they had with their late father come through strongly and really ground the film, which is helped by bringing through a touch of comedy. As the film moves forward, it begins to ask very different things of its actors, for Sparrow it’s much more emotional, vivid and right on the edge, she ticks all those boxes and plays really well into the paranoia that springs forth and grows as the film strolls to its finale. Laws on the other hand has to remain the constant sceptic, in a classically British manner of being logical with an edge of cynicism and he brings a strong relatability to his character.

The story progresses well, it takes its time to lean into the horror element but it does bring it through but it could have been pushed more strongly, it’s fairly minimal and plays more on the psychology of its story than the supernatural. It is however a poignant metaphor for the countless experiences of grief, and how it’s unique to each person, it never hits anyone the same way, as well as being entirely unpredictable. It does well to use the ease in which paranoia can grow, especially if the person may be already superstitious, it also doesn’t throw everything in at once it takes steps to grow that fear in a more natural manner. That progression is also helped further by having the very subtle but effective score (by Alastair Clayton) sitting gently in the background to emphasise the atmosphere of fear.

There’s only one element that sticks out against an otherwise smoothly constructed and nicely flowing story, which is the ending. The use of timing definitely feels as though it’s going for a shock factor and that will certainly work for some, it fits the kind of style that you can see in many a horror film but tonally, it’s problematic. In the context of the larger issues that the film deals with, the basic idea of the ending makes sense but the execution feels confusing, it doesn’t immediately shout to the point it’s trying to make. When the credits then roll, it can leave you with an unsatisfied feeling, it needed something in keeping with the tone it had already set, or a quick, sharp moment that was more instantly recognisable with its intentions.

Shared Document is a creative creation in a time of such heavy restriction, it takes that challenge and rises to it. Laws and Sparrow work extremely well together, which is even more impressive given that it was shot entirely separately so creating that sibling chemistry through a screen is fantastic. Fostekew’s direction plays with simplicity in an inventive manner, its limited movement works to add extra emphasis when it finally does explore a little. It’s an imaginative way to explore the topic of grief but feels as though it could have embraced the horror aspect more strongly.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

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