It’s dark. You’re walking home, alone. Your senses are heightened by the paranoia that someone somewhere is going to attack & do unspeakable things to you. Everyone is a suspect—every man that glances your way, every passerby. You shuffle quickly with your eyes cast down, gripping your belongings like your life depends on it. Women are all too familiar with this scenario. It is embedded within us that dangers lurk in every corner and that we must always be at the ready. Vikster Chew Chin Wai’s short film Birthday perfectly encapsulates this fear and society’s reaction towards violence against women in a brief 10 minutes.
While keeping to a simple storyline of a woman walking home alone on her birthday, Chew builds tension and creates discomfort to the audience through many stylistic choices. The black & white short film presented in a one take manner begins simply with a woman on the phone arguing with someone about cancelled plans but then builds intensity quickly through an array of sound & close ups capturing the woman’s growing nervousness. The audience is brought on a journey of discomfort and helplessness as they watch the woman be abducted and horrors are left to the imagination, guided only by muffled sounds and an empty wide shot.
The ending where Chew pulls out to a different setting indicates commentary on how sexual abuse can actually happen anywhere from the darkened streets to the inside of someone’s home and the perpetrator can be anyone from a hooded stranger to a family member. It also is a subtle statement on society’s passiveness towards a woman’s trauma, where the actress is weeping in her room with the door open and a man sits watching television just outside of it. The indifference shown by the man is a nod towards how society conveniently ignores that sexual abuse is a very present matter and how victims are never acknowledged or assisted.
By saying so little, Chew actually relays so much in so little time with this simple yet impactful film, which was featured at Minikino Film Week. Through this artistic depiction of a crime, Chew manages to deliver several important themes and messages, making this film a wonderful socio-political masterpiece.
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