by Coop Cooper
Michael Williams is a reliable fixture at film festivals in Mississippi and the neighboring states. He’s also very talented, so when he asked me to take a look at his new short film “Illumination,” I jumped at the chance.
His story, clearly influenced by early Spielberg, easily reminds one of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) but with some similarities to Alex Proyas’ “Knowing” (2009). A cheating archeologist (Glenn Payne) discovers what is truly important in his life after his wife (Juliet Reeves) and son (Grayson Easterling) vanish under unusual circumstances. Saying anymore than that would be telling, but Williams manages to draw out some effective suspense through technical expertise and the performances of the actors.
The leads, while having very little dialogue to work with, rise to the challenge. Glenn Payne plays a convincing everyman, and the emotional roller coaster his character goes through pushes his performance to a higher level. Juliet Reeves portrays her “Mommy” role comfortably and when she and the child are in peril, the terror on her face feels almost tangible. More impressively, she absolutely melts into her role in the scenes in which she is allowed a smile, giving her a radiance that compliments the sense of wonder generated by the tone of the film. Little Grayson Easterling is as cute as a button. I could see Spielberg casting him if he were making “Close Encounters” today.
Special kudos should also go to Keatzi Gunmoney (what a name!) who nailed the musical score for the film, giving it both a sense of dread and wonder at precisely the right moments.
Williams’ excels best at cinematography and lighting. The lighting feels natural when they are supposed to be natural and frighteningly unnatural when the plot drifts into strange territory. The shots themselves indicate an exceptional mastery of the discipline, something I also witnessed in Williams’ last film “Lukos.” Williams has also mastered conveying mood/tone and I can easily identify his favored cinematic influences through how he captures the key moments in his story.
The film was funded by the Emerging Filmmaker Grant provided by the Mississippi Film and Video Alliance, which has chosen their project wisely this year. When I saw “Lukos” earlier this year, I wrote that Michael Williams was a young filmmaker to watch. With the compelling “Illumination,” he continues to prove me right.
Click HERE to see the trailer for “Illumination”