Domestic violence is a sad reality that untold thousands, if not millions around the world have to contend with everyday. Yard Kings, produced by Director Vasco Alexandre, is a short movie that regards only one of these many unfortunate stories, and while it does have some small flaws in my opinion, I enjoyed the heartwarming story it tells about child naivety in the face of real world problems. Children are least deserving of all the woes of this unfortunate world, whether it be a domestic situation like this, poverty, war, climate disaster, or beyond; yet so often do the most vulnerable of our human race seem the most ardent victims of awful people. This short movie gives you both faith in humanity through the form of Ellie, her mother Lisa, and the scrapyard boy, while also a distaste for Alfie; who seems an unrepentant drunk abuser who harms both this mother and her child.
Let's get my gripes out of the way first. Personally, I found the pacing and length a bit off. While I understand this short was aiming for an ambiguous take and it tells us more than enough through dialogues and interactions, the fifteen minute limit constrains from getting to truly know and care for these characters on a genuine level, though thankfully this is more than made up for through symbolism that tells us a great deal about the characters without outright telling us, more on that later. Aside from this, there are a few moments of uncomfortable silence that permeate scenes, such as certain moments between Ellie and Scrapyard Kid, Lisa and Ellie, etcetera. Perhaps this was an intentional choice by the Director, though for me it simply felt strange to have dialogue interrupted by five seconds or more of complete quiet.
Now onto what I enjoyed about this; which is pretty much everything else. Firstly, regarding the abuser character of Alfie, I appreciate that not every scene with him (albeit a majority are) is a bombastic series of screams and physical violence; most poignantly being a scene in the movie's midway mark where he is acting all sweet and nice to Lisa, which honestly to me feels way more uncomfortable than all his scenes of being an outright terrible human being. Abusers can have kindly facades of noble and righteous individuals that want the best for those they are harming, therefore creating a toxic and dependent relationship that keeps the victim ensnared in their grasp. What Alfie does is call a clearly unenthusiastic Lisa beautiful, and from her general demeanor I personally theorize he is keeping her drunk or on some kind of drugs to ensure her obedience. This also leads into another strength of Yard Kings that I mentioned earlier, how children are caught up in such awful scenarios and made victims of abuse. My favorite scene of the movie (and also the most heartbreaking in my opinion) is a discussion between Ellie and Scrapyard Kid in which their fathers are brought up. Both of their biological dads have seemingly disappeared and left their childhoods vulnerable, and Scrapyard Kid's mentioning of Ellie's father's disappearance leaves her saddened and shocked. By no means is it Scrapyard Boy's fault for this; children are usually naively unaware of their circumstances and surroundings and often times say horrendous things to each other without knowing the implications of what they say, which is quite true to life.
There are also cinematographic and lighting choices I'd like to comment on. Primarily; scenes with Alfie take place at night, having a darker coloration over them, immediately telling the viewer two things. Ellie's time with Alfie is shadowy, murky, and unpleasant; wreathed in a symbolic and real darkness, and that she only returns home when absolutely necessary due to her fear and hatred of him. This also contributes to her choice of creating a 'home away from home' in the form of her own Scrapyard Palace, which we see at the end. Frankly; that scene is my second-favorite simply because it so perfectly displays how pure children can be in the worst of situations. Just like we saw earlier how unintentionally insensitive kids could be with their comments, we see at the end how children can prosper despite living in such misery. Abuse can always be overcome by the power of unadulterated sheer love, which I believe Lisa realizes as she tears up (perhaps in joy or sadness of her daughter's inability to recognize their bad situation, or maybe even both? I couldn't really tell). Finally, I have to commend the child actors on portraying a nuanced relationship between Ellie and the Scrapyard Kid. Personally, I found them very adorable together thanks to the actors' wonderful portrayal, whether they end up simply being good friends for the rest of their lives or perhaps something more! They, and all the other actors frankly, did an excellent job here, creating characters that were believable and compelling. All in all, even though I believe there's room for improvement, Scrapyard Kids is an excellent and thought-provoking junkyard bound film about a realistic real world situation, and how children are made to navigate the sins of our world all too early and develop coping mechanisms to combat their own sadness and emotional turmoil, and if you're in the mood to spare fifteen minutes on a wonderful independent short film, I highly recommend it. Finally, while I know this probably seems trite, I am inclined to mention that help is always a phone-call away, and one needs not consign themselves to abuse. Every situation and circumstance is different. and I cannot hope to fathom the what an abuser's victim must be thinking, but still; stories like this can outline that while there is no denying domestic violence is a grim and inescapable situation, there is always a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. 800-799-7233 is the national Domestic Violence help hotline. Stay safe you beautiful people, and get ready for more reviews in the coming months!