‘If I come home again, then you need to be nicer to me’, says Eva, the heroine of Incident at School, a short-length film by Jacob Thomas Pilgaard that we would never forget. As one of the most thought-provoking films in recent years, Incident at School draws a genuine portrait of the terrifying mass shooting at an Odense university. Eva is trapped inside the auditorium yet manages to hide between two rows after being pushed away by a spiteful person who hides in the small closet.
Pilgaard doesn't intend to waste a single moment – the shooting as a basic dramatic situation is set prior, as the film opens right amid a tense situation. Suppose the audience believes that this is the most daunting the film could get. In that case, they should prepare for a myriad of emotions, as the film would build up the tension gradually, culminating in the last act when the internal and external conflicts reach the point of no return. The heroine hides from the shooter, yet she becomes vulnerable in front of her mother. Thus, the filmmaker introduces the incident and puts it in context to reveal another theme while scratching beneath the surface. Amid the inevitable tragedy, Eva reconciles with her mother, a lump that she's been feeling in her throat for a very long time. Her mother is hesitant and reserved, but her seemingly robust barrier breaks when she realizes that Eva could be the killer's next victim. The conversation between the mother and daughter is the film’s driving force, as this is the area that defines a broader array of meanings and purposes. The audience that is yet to engage in this experience for the first time should be aware that they need to be actively invested in Incident at School, as there’s a lot to grasp in the subtext.
Pilgaard is signed as the writer besides his role of an auteur director, which is another reason why the twenty-three-minute unbroken close-up lives up to the expectations that it sets in the first place and overcomes the dramaturgical challenges.
Essentially, Incident at School is a technically perfect film. The opening shot is mirrored with the catharsis, as these two brief scenes provide a balanced contrast against the middle act. The unbroken shot is undoubtedly the film's unique selling point – the camera is static, yet the cinematography thinks of creative ways to stir up the mise-en-scene and enhance the richness in visual grammar, such as indulging in medium, profile, front close-up and extreme close-up (i.e. the shot on timestamp 12:30). Suffice to say, the picture is supported by a fascinating sound design. Great filmmakers value the sound equally with the moving images, as the sound is a storytelling tool before everything else. Besides exploiting the palette of emotions and changes in Eva's breathing, speech pattern and nuances, the sound is an integral dramaturgical component, as it highlights the shooter's action that's on the other side of the camera, i.e. in the unseen.
That being said, we acknowledge and praise Cecilie Elisabeth Bogø Bach’s outstanding performance that we anticipate would prompt her career even more. Bach lets her core wound be exposed to heal in time, and the invited viewer is her only companion besides the estranged mother. Thus, there aren't enough words to describe Bach's mature and impressively versatile acting that excels from an authentic place.
In conclusion, Incident at School deservingly occupies a place in the spotlight. We can't wait to see what Jacob Thomas Pilgaard would be interested in next, as he's set new standards with this short film.
Review written by Dimitar D.