A solider dangling from his parachute like an unpicked apple, confronted with a pervasive humidity, the thick muddy paste of mangroves beneath, surrounded by a blanket of seemingly never-ending green foliage; this is the predicament that opens Canopy, writer/director Aaron Wilson’s first-person take on the sensory experience of being lost at war.
During the battle for Singapore in World War II an Australian pilot is shot down over the jungle. He must do whatever he can to conceal himself from the Japanese and find his way to allied forces.
Canopy gets into your head. You actually feel like you're stranded in a foreign forest. Not like a video game geek says they know what it is like in the Battle of Stalingrad because they've played Call of Duty; but the sensory flood of sounds, treacherous images and the appropriation of the trickery that your mind will play on you when your adrenaline is on overdrive creates unparalleled tension. Although an immediate comparison may be to Terrence Malick’s aesthetic in The Thin Red Line, The New World or Tree ofLife it’s not to the languid philosophical landscapes, it’s fear inducing camouflage. The more you allow yourself to get in the protagonist’s head, the more you'll find yourself holding your breath and straining to find any trace enemy combatants in the frame. There was not a moment in this crowd funded production ($24,000 dollars on Pozible.com) that you grit your teeth at glaring 'dodgy-ness'. On location shooting and brief but perfectly conceived flares of CGI to show Singapore ablaze in the background ensure that you're locked into this ordeal from start to finish.
The narrative is thread bare. Jim (Khan Chittenden) is lost, wordlessly refraining from vocalising thoughts because speaking will reveal his position to the enemy. There's a whole series of exchanges between the protagonist and a Chinese solder Seng (To Tzu-Yi), another 'AWOL' ally that he encounters, which involves less than ten words. Wilson crafts great wordless exchanges that convey volumes. The camera gets intimate with Jim and Seng to allow you to appreciate the nuance in the performances. Both actors adorn these stoic masks that quickly crack to reveal the fear, pain and rage of helplessness.
It's by Canopy's methods that you find your detail absorption levels tuned up and there were some moments you may feel as if the intentionally agonisingly lengthy moments do outstay their welcome. In the wake of a particularly dicey moment that Jim and Seng avoid detection by a Japanese squad you’re subjected to more internalised, dehydrated, adrenalized state. It feels like reeling against even the smallest amount of story and at that moment you’re yearning for more characterization.
Canopy is war cinema as a near virtual reality experience and the sensory deprivation affects you like a memory.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Aaron Wilson
Written by: Aaron Wilson
Starring: Khan Chittenden, To Tzu-Yi