Two rising stars of Canadian cinema, filmmaker Kazik Radwanski (Tower, How Heavy This Hammer) and actor Deragh Campbell (Possessor, I Used To Be Darker), come together to craft a powerful character study of a woman whose life is radically changed by her first skydive in Anne at 13,000 Ft. A lo-fi narrative film that often feels like a documentary with its rambling dialogue and roving camera, Anne at 13,000 Ft soars courtesy of Radwanski’s naturalistic direction and Campbell’s bravura performance. Together, they bring the film’s troubled titular character to sparkling life and ensure you’ll remain fascinated by her journey throughout the entire bumpy ride.
Anne (Campbell) is a twenty-something employee at a daycare center who is set to be the maid of honor at the wedding of her best friend and coworker, Sarah (Dorothea Paas). But after they go skydiving for Sarah’s bachelorette party, Anne becomes obsessed with regaining the feeling she had while in free fall. She immediately starts training to do another jump on her own; in the meantime, her life devolves into a frantic series of events, bordering on self-sabotage, that seems designed to recreate that singular rush of adrenaline. “Ever since we went skydiving, I just want to be really high up,” Anne tells Sarah as they stand on the rooftop of the daycare center, before begging Sarah to lift her even higher into the air.
With a pale and pointed face framed by a mass of tangled blonde hair, Anne looks and acts almost as childlike as her charges at the daycare center. And while her attitude endears her to the children, her overly casual and increasingly irresponsible approach to her job frustrates her coworkers, including an older woman who reports Anne to their boss after Anne jokingly chucks an empty coffee cup at her. While one feels a great deal of empathy for Anne—who wouldn’t be driven to the point of rebellion by someone obsessed with waiting for you to break a rule?—one also feels anxious as Anne’s behavior, including around the children, grows increasingly erratic.
Anne glosses over most of the bizarre things she does as jokes that those around her, filled with a mixture of concern and annoyance, simply do not understand. When Anne meets a guy named Matt (Matt Johnson) at Sarah’s wedding and embarks on a supposedly casual relationship with him, she proceeds to alienate him by bringing him over to meet her parents for the first time without telling them in advance, then introducing him as her fiance. It’s a trick we’re playing on them, Anne explains to Matt, who needless to say is much more stressed than amused. (Honestly, Anne’s better off without him—his weird attempt at complimenting her maid of honor speech is actually kind of mean, and he gets her drunk in a way that feels borderline predatory.) It’s only when Anne’s at the airfield, training to jump again and laughing with her instructors, that everything seems to be as it should.
While some might feel that the comparisons to the collaborations of Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes are a tad lofty to be throwing around in regards to Anne at 13,000 Ft, there’s no denying that they are stylistically apt, especially in regards to one particular film. Anne’s unraveling feels hauntingly similar to that of Rowlands’ Mabel in A Woman Under the Influence, both of them striving to feel something, anything that will keep them from succumbing to the numbness that so many women are infected with by a society that would prefer them to be seen and not heard. Both Anne and Mabel behave in ways that feel exhilarating to them but are seen as frightening, even dangerous, to the rest of the world; any attempts to control them only result in further damage to their fragile emotional states. It’s subtly implied throughout the film that Anne has a history of mental instability; upon Anne moving into an apartment of her own, her anxious mother is full of questions and assures her that she can always come back home. Yet her mother’s attempts at ensuring she is okay, much like her coworker’s attempts to get her to follow the rules, only send Anne into more of a tailspin.
Campbell’s devastating portrayal of a woman on the verge, like Rowlands’ iconic performance, is deeply sympathetic even as one’s stress levels start to skyrocket while watching her. There is a striking naturalness in her performance that makes it difficult for one to determine where Anne ends and the actor begins; her shaky, almost stumbling voice as she attempts to articulate herself will feel painfully authentic to anyone who has ever struggled to feel understood. Anne is frequently filmed from the side or from the back, emphasizing how opaque her motivations are to those around her, but even when the camera captures her face in excruciatingly tight close-up, one still feels that there is a mystery hidden deep within her blue eyes that cannot be solved—at least not within Anne at 13,000 Ft’s succinct 75-minute running time. Yet that somehow makes watching her all the more fascinating.
Cinematographer Nikolay Michaylov shoots Anne at 13,000 Ft with a handheld camera that is always in motion and often incredibly close to the characters, lending the film a striking sense of intimacy bordering on claustrophobia. In the absence of a musical score, there is a cacophony of natural sound, dominated by the overlapping sounds of numerous small children chattering away. As one grows gradually more overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Anne’s everyday life, one can easily understand why Anne would want to escape it all for the freedom of the open air. The film frequently cuts between Anne at work and at home with Anne at the airfield, a place where she is allowed to be someone entirely different; someone capable of jumping from a plane and pulling a parachute without anyone hovering over her shoulder, asking how she is doing, worry about what she might do next. And when faced with these juxtapositions, who wouldn’t choose the feeling of flying at the expense of everything else?
One of the more effective collaborations between director and star in recent memory, Radwanski and Campbell bring out the absolute best in each other. Their combined talents make Anne at 13,000 Ft a must-see.
What do you think? Are you familiar with Radwanski and Campbell’s previous work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Anne at 13,000 Ft will be released in New York on September 3, 2021 and in Los Angeles on September 10, 2021.
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Lee Jutton has directed short films starring a killer toaster, a killer Christmas tree, and a not-killer leopard. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Film School Rejects, Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Bitch Flicks, TV Fanatic, and Just Press Play. When not watching, making, or writing about films, she can usually be found on Twitter obsessing over soccer, BTS, and her cat.