Written and directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, co-written by Geoff Cox, somewhere in Europe, mid-20th century, Albert is employed to look after Mia, a girl with teeth of ice. Mia never leaves their apartment, where the shutters are always closed. The telephone rings regularly and the Master enquires after Mia’s wellbeing, until the day Albert is instructed that he must prepare the child to leave. Starring: Paul Hilton, Alex Lawther, Romane Hemelaers, Romola Garai, Peter Van den Begin and Anastasia Robin.
Even simply from the synopsis, it’s easy to know that this isn’t going to be your average story. It’s obscure, odd and evasive, and unfortunately not that much becomes apparent even as it enters its final scenes. It moves with a purposefully slow pacing, focusing more on atmosphere than plot. Initially it works, being set somewhere around the 1940s or 50s it creates a feeling of minimalism and isolation, while harking to dystopian futures or science fiction. However, that choice to reveal so little and never spend the time to explain the reasonings behind its strange existence, limits the attention and investment you can give it. For a while, purely sympathy for Mia (Romane Hemelaers) creates a good reason to follow the story but as it starts to branch out, the focus shifts from her and weakens that motive. Even as the credits roll, there isn’t a clear picture of the larger intentions with this story and while some may be content with that, it’s likely a lot of viewers will be left unsatisfied.
However, visually it’s strong from start to finish, there’s an almost hypnotic quality to the way that it moves and how it uses colour. The same elements which make the pacing slow, give the aesthetic a lot of time to establish itself, to let the depth and richness of the cinematography really land with a punch. It’s careful about its use of sound, it’s eerily quiet which enriches a curious and mysterious edge. There’s a darkness to it but at the same time it never feels truly sinister, surrounding such an innocent young girl, it always forays more into strange and unusual territory.
As you’d imagine, with a story that keeps its secrets well hidden, there isn’t a great deal to learn about its characters, but the cast still feels strong. Romane Hemelaers provides the heart of the film and her performance is certainly one of the elements which holds your attention better than most. She brings an interesting mix of qualities to Mia, there’s an intelligence and natural curiosity but there’s also the insecurities and anxieties resulting from her isolation. It makes a balance of wanting to explore new things but also wanting to stick to what she knows and likes. Paul Hilton probably gets the most dialogue out of a very dialogue restricted feature, giving a bigger insight than the rest of the cast. However, it’s hard to pin down his personality and intentions, the way in which they try to explore his past feels messy and unclear. The same goes for the portion of the story with Alex Lawther and Romola Garai, it simply doesn’t feel like a smooth or natural transition, making it unnecessarily difficult for viewers to piece things together and restricting their performances.
Earwig is shot beautifully, the aesthetic it creates has a transfixing quality, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a layered or gripping enough story to back it up. It holds back too intensely and leaves too many questions unanswered. Hemelaers and Hilton give great lead performances, it’s just a shame they weren’t given enough material to truly explore their characters. It’s undoubtedly obscure and therefore limits the potential audience who will enjoy its strange delights but if you’re not in search of the definitive and have a penchant for the odd, this one is for you.