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‘His Hands’ review: ‘An erotic and unsettling short film of striking power’

Arron Blake's award-winning new short is a thought-provoking, silent exploration of power and sexuality.

By Will Stroude

Words: Matthew Barton (Follow on Twitter and Instagram)

Every once in a while, a truly unusual and striking film stops you in your tracks – when it’s a silent film that runs just about as long as your tea break but packs a considerable punch, you know you’re really onto something.

His Hands is a 13-minute silent short directed by Arron Blake, who also stars in the film, and Darius Shu, and has won awards at the Oniros Film Awards and been screened at Perth’s International Queer Film Festival and The Lowry ahead of a wider release next year.

The enigmatic synopsis refers to “two men of different ages meeting for the strangest encounter of their lives” – and what unfolds over the course of less than a quarter of an hour reinforces a real sense of the unsettling and bizarre.

Blake plays an unnamed younger man who visits the flat of an older man, played by Philip Briseboise; the door to the flat resembles the bars of a prison cell, and Blake touching on the loud buzzer breaks the eerie silence. The action exclusively takes place within this darkened interior, which feels like a strange, disquieting bubble separate to the daytime cityscape outside.

It’s testament to Blake and Shu’s skill, direction, and cinematography that the film, which features absolutely no dialogue, manages to convey an incredible sense of mood and feeling throughout. It opens with pulsating glam music interlaced with images of plastic sheets, scissors, and statues that are both erotic and threatening.

The juxtaposition of the sensual with the macabre is one of the recurring motifs of the film – later on, a protruding dark lipstick emerging from its case is both threatening and sexual, a dagger or a phallus depending on your interpretation. There is sexual energy, beauty, and sensuality but on the flipside there is danger and an omnipresent threat.

Thematically, much of the film seems to hinge on the tension of opposites: age and youth; the masculine and the feminine; power and subservience. The nature of the two men’s relationship is left unclear – is the younger man something of a caretaker, a companion? Is this a Grindr meet?

There’s a particularly enticing mirroring scene where the camera lingers on the eyes, mouths, and hands of the respective men – both their differences and their similarities are conveyed; it’s an interesting musing on the nature of ageing, sexuality, and gender identities. All the while, the unsettling and suspenseful ambient synth soundtrack from Chas Langston bubbles away.

There’s a definite through-line; without spoiling, a climactic scene involving a running bath harkens back to a blink-and-you-miss-it scene from earlier in the film, where struggling hands and feet are intercut with haunting (and haunted) bathroom imagery. Power, control, vulnerability, loneliness, revenge – much is hinted at, but never quite declared. And it’s this subtlety that gives the film its quiet, striking power.

The cinematography is beautiful; it’s a modern, stylish dreamscape of metallic hues, of greens and blues and whites, and the camera work is tense and beautiful. The images are arresting, from the withered hands clutching the handles of chairs to the eerie laying of a tray in a lap to the macabre hand choreography where silhouetted fingers resemble knives.

And what about the recurring symbolism of the earrings? What do the earrings represent? Desire? Power? Currency? It’s a potent motif that leads to an evocative final image, of a dark figure looking out at the daylight streaming through the windows. What are the motivations of these characters? And what do they reflect in ourselves?

His Hands is a powerful film that says a lot without “saying” anything at all. Its themes and images converge to create a stylish, dynamic thriller; Blake and Shu cleverly make use of colours, images, ideas in place of speech, and the film has a unique energy all the better for it.

Much is left to the viewer’s imagination and interpretation; the absence of dialogue only enhances the film’s ambiguous, questioning nature. Blake and Brisebois are immensely watchable and skilful, the conflicting forces of power and vulnerability borne out by a gesture, or a look, or a delicate action.

This thought-provoking silent short heralds some exciting filmmaking talent, and it will be interesting to see where Blake and Shu’s arthouse creativity leads them next.

His Hands is set to premiere in April 2019. Check out the trailer below: