Howdy folks! Today I’m going to show you “ALIGHT” by Alissa Marmol, a creative mini-documentary about a forgotten Victorian girl and the horrible fate she suffered.
We open on a (slightly lengthy) shot of a black screen and ambient sound. The sound design is a gorgeous combination of heartbeats, heavy breathing, and wind — what’s less enjoyable is the addition of some intense crinkling noises. I found the crinkling sound effect too loud and was unsure of its purpose. It negatively affects the otherwise lovely sound design. Even the narration is clean and crisp!
Something I love about the opening shot that we revisit throughout the short is match-light. I’m a sucker for good incorporation of fire, and the match’s repetitive lighting and snuffing give a desperate, eerie feel. Combined with the narration, it’s easy to imagine you’re exactly in the same place Charlotte (the protagonist) is.
In terms of filmmaking, I’m impressed with the blend of historical and present-day footage. The old, grainy reel of horse-drawn carriages and drawings from Charlotte’s time period add to a documentary-like feel. Contrasting it with the modern footage of the building balances out the aesthetics and brings the story to life. It helps a lot with my investment in the story— something otherwise hindered by the lack of actors. Marmol’s scenic shots are pretty, but the product feels impersonal.
My favorite part of the film is the narration. Yes, it’s mostly documentary-style, but ALIGHT includes creative phrasings that make it feel much more like creative nonfiction. My favorite line is “A life viewed through the wrong side of the window.” We, as the audience, are on the “right” side of the window, away from the horrors of the asylum, and Charlotte is trapped inside where we can’t see her or get to her. This line intensifies the feeling we get seeing only footage from outside of the building; that something is being hidden from us.
While the director refers to this film as “feminist gothic,” I find very little feminism in a young woman forced into indentured servitude but then murdered by the negligence of those who were supposed to be caring for her. Honestly, I’m not sure where feminism fits into this story of a girl who burned to death in a dark and lonely tower. Yes, the story is tragic and worth telling so the world does not forget this poor girl, but feminist? I don’t think so.
This deep dive into the final moments of Charlotte Bennett is such an inventive idea. As a history buff myself, seeing something so creative made from forgotten history is incredibly alluring. Telling Charlotte’s story in a more palatable way than a straight documentary is a very smart move — one that I would hope to have made myself. I have my little annoyances about the crinkling and the lack of actors, but this short was altogether enjoyable. I give it 3 out of 5 matches struck in the dark.
“ALIGHT” is an 8-minute short student film about the unjust death of a teenage girl in the Victorian era. It combines collage and the poetic documentary mode with feminist analysis and traces of Gothic horror.
Jett Thorn can be found in an Emerson College film classroom, the dance studio, or snuggled up with their cat. they have dabbled in most every aspect of film, from directing, to writing, to being a production assistant, to editing, and now criticizing.
Hi! The filmmaker in question here, I hope it’s not too odd to comment but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to review my project. I would argue that it’s a feminist short film in the same way Sally Potter’s Thriller (1980) is, i.e. a previously unexplored/unheard feminine narrative given a voice, but I’m glad to see mostly positive things said about a story that’s been so near & dear to me. Thank you once again!