By Shaquille Galvan || Contributing Writer
2013 was the year Gravity stunned many with its amazing visuals, Twelve Years a Slave won Best Picture at the Oscars, Frozen unforgivingly brainwashed seven-year-olds everywhere, and Short Term 12 slipped under the general audience’s radar.
Short Term 12 is an emotionally-charged, low budget drama that deals with adults and children coming to terms with their ugly past and learning how to love and be loved again. It is Destin Daniel Cretton’s sophomore film, but his inexperience doesn’t show at all.
The film primarily follows Grace as the supervisor of Short Term 12, a facility that houses under privileged youth in a safe and supporting environment. Grace is a truly compassionate character that is willing to go great lengths to support these kids in whatever way she feels necessary throughout the film. She and several of the other faculty members seem to innately understand the emotional turmoil these kids are going through because they are also products of the foster care system.
This dynamic can be seen through most of the film’s story lines, but it is taken to its extreme in the development of Grace and Jayden’s relationship. Jayden is a recent addition to Short Term 12 who is reluctant to get close to any of the other children because she doesn’t believe she will be in there for long and anxiously awaits for her fathers to pick her up. After various intimate interactions between Jayden and Grace, it becomes clear that they both have an eerily similar past that they are both working on overcoming.
In addition to Grace and Jayden, the film is filled with several other complex and interesting characters. There is Marcuse, a fish enthusiast, who is about to turn 18 and enter the outside world.
Mason is Grace’s boyfriend and soon to be the father of her baby. Nate is a new member of the faculty who is learning about a reality he is not too familiar with. And finally, there is Sammy, a troubled kid, who you can reliably count on trying to escape the facility.
The film is emotionally gripping. Once it gets going, it becomes difficult to stop watching. There are several tear-jerking moments that are neither cheesy nor shoehorned into fitting. The emotions seem entirely organic.
Most of the film is shot with a hand-held camera, a trope that could have easily gotten nauseating. Cretton’s uses the hand held camera, though, gives the film a realistic feel without delving into documentary territory. The technique enhances the film’s emotions and raises the stakes.
The acting is, for the most part, great. Two actors that stand out in particular are Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden and Keith Stanfield as Marcus. Both of these actors played the nuances of their character well, and they bring their all in scenes that demand it. Keith’s performance in Short Term 12 actually launched his career landing him roles in several other films, most notably Snoop Dogg in Straight Outta Compton.
Overall, Short Term 12 might be small in scale, but it is definitely big in heart. With Destin Daniel Cretton’s sensibilities in character and story, I would be interested in seeing what he is working on next. If you haven’t seen Short Term 12, I
recommend you seek it out.
Shaquille Galvan is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.