In English parlance the word stain has two main interpretations—one a physical stain, on clothing or objects, and another more social regarding staining one’s reputation. The Stain masterfully crafts its short 6-minute narrative around this two-fold definition in a quiet story about a mother discovering the grim path her teenage son has strayed onto.
As the film opens, we are struck with an astounding image of a mundane supermarket aisle. However, unlike the yawn-inducing act of supermarket shopping, this shop revels in the glory of the 20th century Warhol-like fascination in the organised chaos of colours that is stacked shelves. This perchance for bold, attractive cinematography run throughout and certainly shows Dan Kennedy’s mastery of, generally dark, inner city cinematography.
The fantastic execution of the film’s visuals is essential, as the story is told through them with director Brian Petchers intriguingly choosing to eradicate all dialogue moments behind walls of music and white noise. And while the cinematography guides our understanding of the plot, this soundscape guides our emotional response and anticipation. The best example of this comes early on, before we know anything of the story or the characters. All we see is a boy sneaking up on our elder protagonist, scaring her and then the two greeting one another. However, instead of a tense release the tension kicks in as they begin to interact— with a dark, grim, suggestive ringing in the ears. This one creative decision perfectly laid the groundworks for their relationship to expand as from the very word go, it’s clear there’s something between them. Yet, on the topic of the soundscape, if I were to nit-pick, I would say the team behind the foley may have gone a touch too far, with sounds jumping far beyond their natural, real-world counterparts.
As their relationship unfurls, through fantastic acting from both mother (Una Clancy) and son (Dan Piering), we move between home, laundrette and dark city streets all captured in fantastically captivating ways. The mother discovers stain on her son’s hands and clothes, and we soon discover the stain is due to some rather unsavoury, radical activity. The mother finds this and tries to erase the marks, staining her own hands in the process and as she returns home, in the film’s finest moment, she simply stares at her son, he stares back and thousands of questions, themes and ideas explode into mind as we cut to black—leaving us with some potent messages well worth considering far after the film’s brief runtime.
While many of these themes are fantastic, from the root of hate-crimes, generational divides, an inability to properly communicate with one’s child, trying to cover for each other’s mistakes, peer pressure and much more one struck me as particularly problematic. That would be the son’s relationship to video-games and pairing this with his decline into committing racial hate-crimes. As video-games have always been under fire by arguments pertaining to negative influence, increased violence and radicalisation, it feels like too easy an option to set as the backdrop for the boy’s downfall. This is, of course, with the knowledge that the correlation between gaming and radicalisation/criminal behaviour is not as prevalent as has so often been testified.
Regardless, I have no hesitation to call Dan Kennedy’s The Stain as a masterpiece of short- film form. Homing in on one discrete theme, while inciting countless questions without the need of complex dialogue, characterisation or countless locations is truly something special. And it is clear, The Stain is a relevant piece well worth signal-boosting until it gets the exposure it deserves.