Made as part of the Cinema Extreme Scheme in 2006, ‘Soft’ was writer and director Simon Ellis’ fourth short film, winning 15 awards in total including the International Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Best Short Film at the British Independent Film Awards. Following the success of ‘Soft’ Simon Ellis has since gone on to write and direct his first feature film ‘Dogging: A Love Story.’
The film begins with the title set against a simple black background and the diegetic sound of a male voice shouting. The next thing we see is a group of teenagers running down an alleyway, screaming and shouting at each other. This scene was filmed using a mobile phone, with the pixelated image, shaky camera movement and reduced sound quality showing this. The screaming and shouting of the group combined with the shakiness of the camera evokes a sense of urgency and chaos within both the text and the audience.
As the group reach the end of the alleyway we see them join another group of youths who are bullying a boy in a school uniform. Most of the characters are dressed fairly stereotypically with a girl in a white shirt and a bunch of boys in black hoodies. However, the ring leader of the group, a chavvy looking boy in a white tracksuit stands out from the rest, with his tracksuit holding connotations of being lower-class and having a lack of education, whilst also holding the connotations of innocence and purity due to its colour. The scene also looks grey and overcast conveying the negative tone of the scene.
As the film continues and the boy in the white tracksuit repeatedly hits the other, we notice that one of the hooded youths is in fact filming this attack on their mobile, taking us into the world of ‘happy slapping’; a huge issue with teenagers in today’s society which often leads to cyber bullying, with these cruel images being sent around the victim’s social network. The screen then goes to black, showing a pass in time and a change of location.
A high-angled celluloid shot showing a quiet residential street full of terraced-houses and middle-class cars is the next thing we see, taking us into a new scene and more importantly a new location with a different tone. The diegetic sound of birds tweeting is heard while naturalistic lighting sets the tone of the scene as peaceful and tranquil, a complete contrast to the previous scene where there was chaos and violence. We then hear the sound of a car before it enters the frame and parks up. An adult male then gets out of the car before locking it and entering his home.
As we enter the house, along with the man, we see a high-angled shot from the top of the stairs looking down at the front door. This shot is accompanied by the sound of heavy thumping coming from techno music being played in a room upstairs. A youthful pair of legs sporting jeans and trainers then walks into the frame, walking downstairs and then running back up as we hear the sound of a key in the door and see the man from the street entering. We assume that the man and the boy whose legs we’ve just seen are father and son, as the man calls upstairs for him to move his bag; we also assume that the boy is afraid of his dad as we see only his lower half. However we later find out that the boy is the school boy who was getting beaten up in the mobile phone footage and he was in fact hiding his bruised face from his father.
We then follow the man out into the kitchen as he begins to prepare himself a cup of tea, only to realise that he is out of milk. He calls out to his son to go and get some; however the boy simply turns his music up, ignoring his request. The man then exits the house deciding to get some himself. It is at this point in the film that we see this character fully for the first time. We notice his attire, he is dressed in a shirt and tie, the tie being a symbolic piece of costume symbolising his important job and middle-class status; class and status also being represented through the interior of the house and the leafy, suburban area in which the family live.
The camera then follows the man out of the house in a tracking shot, where we see him greet a neighbour and begin his journey to the shops. The diegetic sound of birds is again heard, re-instating the tranquil tone of the film at this moment in time. This shot is then cut and we go to mobile phone footage of the gang of youths standing outside a corner shop, beat-boxing into a traffic cone. We then go back to a celluloid shot of the dad, as he walks along a leafy walkway with the sound of church bells in the background. The scene is again cut and we go back to the mobile phone footage and the gang, who are now jumping out at passers-by and using colloquial language often associated with gang culture. These quick cuts combined with the contrast in tone and diegetic sound helps to build tension within the audience and the film itself, while also acting as an ellipsis, showing a pass in time. They also help the audience to become aware of the director’s rationale, which is to highlight the generational and cultural differences between adults and teenagers today. The use of parallel editing suggests to the audience that at some point the gang and the father are going to meet and that there is going to be some kind of struggle between them.
As the man arrives at the shop, we see the gang of youths on celluloid film for the first time. They begin to harass the man, popping a balloon in his face and laughing at his reaction. However the man doesn’t shy away from the gang as he sarcastically laughs back, showing the gang of youths up and embarrassing the ring leader in front of his peers. The man then enters the shop and buys a pint of milk from a worried looking shopkeeper while the youths bang on the window, again building the tension within the audience. As he begins to exit the shop the boy in the white tracksuit appears, standing in the man’s way. The man politely asks him to move and he does so, but as soon as they get outside of the shop we are back to the mobile phone footage with the camera zooming in on the father, selecting him as a target. The boy in the white tracksuit then confronts the man as he drops the milk, kicking him to the ground and spitting; the man does not retaliate instead he gets back up and begins to walk home. The youth then begins to do the robot, celebrating the fear he had over the man.
The camera then switches back to celluloid film as we follow the man home in a series of close-ups and wide shots that enable us to not only see the man’s reaction to what’s just happened but enable us to see the gang of youths following him from behind. The quick cuts between these shots are combined with flashbacks of the incident where we also hear the sound of a heavy, thumping heartbeat conveying the man’s anxiety and worry over the incident. As the man enters his home, we see the gang turn the corner and position themselves outside the house.
Back at home, the boy tries to approach his dad about his injuries whilst making a cup of tea. It is at this point that we realise the son is the school boy who was being attacked in the mobile phone footage as the camera quickly cuts to the boy’s busted lip to show its importance and that the father has the exact same injury. The man now realises his son was subject to the same event that he was, but instead of defending his son he dishes out the advice that he should stick up for himself.
The father and son then move into the front room where they sit on the sofa as the gang begin to throw stones at the window, the camera stays focused on the pair at this point in the film creating tension and showing the panic and worry on their faces progressing. The father attempts to ignore the situation and keep the boy still as he insists that his dad do something. The boy then jumps up but the dad restrains him from going outside. As the boy asks his father if he’s scared it dawns on the man that he’s got to face his fears and go outside. As the man begins to remove his tie and approach the front door the editorial pace slows down, showing his hesitation and the fear he has over confronting the youths. He tries to assure his son that he is not scared but the boy doesn’t believe him, pushing him aside and storming out of the house to confront the gang himself. The man then follows his son out of the house, reluctantly following his advice to stand up for yourself. As he nears the group the celluloid footage is cut short and we are back to the mobile phone, with the gang turning on the father. Suddenly we see the boy rush back into the house and come back out grasping a cricket bat, rushing to his father’s aid by swinging for the boy in the white tracksuit. As the youth falls to the ground the camera switches back to celluloid film. The boy continues to swing the bat around in quick succession, scaring the remaining gang members away. Afterwards he goes to hand his dad the bat but instead drops it, showing his hurt and disappointment in his father. The boy then enters the house and slams the door shut while his dad is left outside ashamed of the coward he is.
The film ends with an aerial view of the street showing the father retrieving the cricket bat from the ground and entering his house. As several people begin to leave their houses the diegetic sound of traffic and dogs barking are now heard creating a bleak and unseen version of community.