A young man with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a deployed parachute hangs by a dead tree branch. The landscape around him is desolate. Then, from the dust and mist, a large black figure approaches. It has two white circles where the eyes should be and nothing more.
A mother and a father sit at a table and do not speak. A large shadow sits between them. The shadow moves freely, following them wherever they go and engulfs them when they are vulnerable.
Neither the shadow nor the figure speaks. They don’t seem to want anything in particular, but their presence is constant. The characters have a hard time shaking them.
Not that the characters haunted by these dark specters have anything in common: They come from two separate movies. The young man in the parachute harness comes from Gints Zilbalodis’ feature-length animation Away, and the man and woman come from Michael Govier and Will McCormack’s animated short, If Anything Happens I Love You. And at 75 and 12 minutes respectively, they would make for a perfect double feature in the amount of time it takes to watch one movie.
Let’s open with If Anything Happens I Love You, a beautifully illustrated work that follows two grieving parents. Similar to Away, If Anything Happens I Love You tells its story sans dialogue—relying on visual cues and the soundtrack (Lindsay Marcus) to convey shifting emotions as the two parents escape their pain by receding into the realm of memory. Fluid lines carry the momentum from one scene to the next, and the shadows of the two parents morph from grief to joy to grief again.
I won’t spoil the cause of their grief—though Netflix’s content warning at the top corner sure does—so let’s move to the main feature, Away. Using computer-generated images and made over three years by Latvian writer/producer/director/animator/composer/editor Zilbalodis, Away is a stunning work that exists somewhere between silent fable and video game cut scene. The story is lean: A young boy crash-lands on the deserted side of an island. He comes across a map leading him to civilization, a dirt bike, and follows the signs home. On his way, he encounters birds, cats, elephants, an avalanche, and the large black figure that silently pursues him.
Though the black figure motivates the young man’s escape, Away wants to stay in the island’s meditative space, free from noise and dialogue, and too much detail. The camera moves with liberation—there is little here that feels anchored—and the images convey tranquility. Watching them feels refreshing, like the cold, clear water the young man plunges into in the movie’s climax.
Though there is little connecting If Anything Happens I Love You and Away beyond the black figures haunting our protagonists, the two feel like a piece. Try them back-to-back, preferably ending with Away, and bask in the versatility of the animated image.
If Anything Happens I Love You (2020)
Written and directed by Michael Govier and Will McCormack
Produced by Gerald Chamales, Maryann Garger, Gary Gilbert, Michael Govier
Netflix, Rated PG, Running time 12 minutes, Now streaming on Netflix.
By Gints Zilbalodis
Subliminal Films, Not rated, Running time 75 minutes, Now streaming on TubiTV