Dying And Other Superpowers
Dir: Elias Ribeiro
Cert: TBC • UK: 13.50 min • Urucumedia • May 2012
At first glance, Josh seems like your ordinary late teen: he plays video games, hangs out with his best friend Ellie and is doted on by his Mum. In an unfortunate twist of fate, he learns that he is HIV positive on his 18th birthday, and this unleashes dormant telekinetic powers.
Dying And Other Superpowers is a vibrant and moving short film with some impressive set pieces. The narrative, taken from Kristian Johns’ original short story of the same name, is magnificently clever and candid. This is underpinned by some outstanding performances from Tom Stanley (Josh) and Rebecca Pitkin (Ellie), whose sincere chemistry is very affecting.
The film opens with Josh narrating us through his visit to the clinic interspersed with scenes of a risky, sexual encounter, featuring author Johns in a cameo. On discovering he is HIV positive, a surge of emotions result in the mug on the nurse’s desk exploding, making for a formidably executed set piece, evoking the scene in Carrie in the principal’s office. We rewind to Josh and Ellie playing video games and get an insight to their emotional connection through an adorable scene where they both rib each other. Cue Josh’s Mum’s boyfriend Stuart, a veritable ‘Mr. Robinson’, “whose sexual proclivities would make Oedipus ruffle a newspaper and ask anyone if they wanted a cup of tea”. His intention of seducing Josh is immediately obvious and both men end up in the shower, nearly being caught by Mum Lorraine in the process.
The narrative shifts to Josh’s birthday celebration, the scene is poignantly intercut with scenes from Josh’s visit to the clinic culminating in a truly heartbreaking scene. It’s an incredibly distressing scene which is compounded as he collapses in the street. In one of the film’s most touching and genuine scenes, Ellie reacts violently to news of Josh’s diagnosis, but makes an immediate volte-face when he explains the harsh reality to her. As an argument at home concludes in Stuart and Josh’s indiscretion being outed, Stuart becomes violent and the full extent of Josh’s powers erupt and he wakes in a hospital, his mother denying all knowledge of the telekinetic denouement.
The refreshing aspect of this film is its frankness and honesty in its treatment of the realities of HIV; at the heart of the piece is the coming to terms with a positive diagnosis, accepting the things you cannot change and moving on. Some brilliant one liners help to balance the tone of the piece, with Josh exclaiming at one point, “I’m glad I’m gay, women are just weird!”.
As is expected from an adaptation, Kristian Johns’ short story here unfolds differently from the original, being told separately from Josh’s and Ellie’s perspective and there is a much more definite and darker ending. The film explores the characters further; at the heart of any authentic superhero story is the reality of the character juxtaposed with their supernatural aspect and the piece ends on more of a high with Josh realising that he has to gain control of his powers to use them for a greater good.
Dying And Other Superpowers is a triumph for Ribeiro, Johns and screenwriter James Pohotsky. The visceral storytelling is enhanced with some deft camerawork, sharp editing and some powerful and impressive performances, with some canny parallels drawn between being HIV+ and superpowers.
Dying And Other Superpowers is screening in competition as part of the Rushes Soho Shorts International Film Festival, July 11-20.