Brian Lawes’s award winning, live-action short film, Lost Kings, tells the story of a boy who breaks into a house to look for food, only to become trapped inside when the homeowners unexpectedly return.
Warning: This review contains spoilers
Lost Kings is a beautifully shot, capably directed film with impressive clarity of structure and purpose. It contains a nice variety of scenes to sustain our interest, and the story moves along at a decent pace.
This is a film about inequality and poverty, but it is also about circumstances and the choices they force us to make. It’s a parable, too, on not rushing to judgement: although the boy, by the time we see him enter the house, is an opportunist thief, there is unarguable honour in his intentions – to stop his little brother from going hungry.
The sparse dialogue complements the lead’s gauche diffidence so characteristic in teenagers (he and his little brother are also seen communicate non-verbally at home). The birdsong, rustling trees and hushed street noises also add to that feeling of experiencing the world anew though pin-sharp, adolescent senses. This is a powerful portrayal of teenage caprice and its consequences. Whilst the boy’s predicament is unique, he, himself, is not – he’s just another hot-headed youngster whose well-intentioned recklessness has landed him in hot water.
We spend a good portion of the film watching the boy hiding from the homeowners (a teenage girl and her mother) when they return shortly after leaving; I suspect that this is down to the director trying to ratchet up the tension through slowing down the pace. One unintended consequence of this, though, is that we are given more time to notice the boy’s footsteps on the wooden floorboards and his frequent apparent conspicuousness to the occupants. The boy’s leisurely approach to the break-in also feels a little improbable. One might have expected that he would want to get in and out of the house as quickly as possible, even if the owners had only just left. Instead, prior to their arrival, he just ambles, calmly and unrushed, around the house. Better character development might have offered up some kind of explanation for this. We’ll never know. All the characters could have benefited from being a little better drawn.
We spend equal amounts of time following the boy and the two residents around the house, following their return. Staying with the boy throughout would have better captured the heart-stopping vexation of trespassing; conversely, switching perspectives over completely to follow the owners, together, perhaps, with some glimpses of the intruder from afar for the audience would have better conveyed the disquieting ominousness of the burglary.
The boy’s discovery by the girl, in the end, falls a little flat. This, I think, is because the horror of being holed up in this monstrous situation is never quite captured. The mother discovering the boy might have provided the shock value this climax so badly needed, so utterly mortifying would it have been for our lead.
Nonetheless, there are numerous subtle and thought-provoking touches. When the boy opens the woman’s jewellery box in her bedroom, we are not sure whether he is looking to steal or he is just taking in the scenery – after all, this smart, spacious house is a markedly different place to the ostensibly male-oriented, cramped dwelling the boy inhabits. The unforeseen nature of the owners returning just as they set off nicely grounds the film in the full, unvarnished chaos of real-life. The most poignant moment is not, as one might expect, the silent triste triggered by the eventual confrontation between the boy and the girl; it is the boy’s tearful ride home – he is so distraught by his detection, he barely has the strength to stay on his bike; his burning, desperate shame is searingly memorable.
There are plans to turn this film into a feature adaptation; this ambition is fully deserved – this is a story that needs a longer run-time to give up all its secrets and make its characters really shine.
Lost Kings can soon be seen at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Find out more on the film’s official webpage
Review by John Molyneux