University is a big time in a young person’s life. You’re having to leave home, probably for the first time, travelling to a new city, meeting new people, taking care of yourself without assistance, and all with the added pressure of trying to get through intense education that will land you in debt for decades to come. As such, it’s no surprise that a lot of people face some difficulties with this; and this is what Oscar Wenman Hyde’s new film is all about.
Cycles, a short hour long film made for a scant £1000, follows two brothers as they journey to an unnamed town to get set up for the first days of university. The Older Brother (Henry Wilson) is there to help the Younger Brother (Henry Fisk) drop his things off in his dorm room. The plan is for the two of them to deliver the luggage and head out to grab some lunch together, but pretty soon the two of them start talking about the pressures of university, the expectations put upon them by their mother, love, identity, and plans for the future in a hour long rambling argument between the two of them.
If that description of the film feels a little vague it’s really because not much happens in this movie. It’s pretty much just one continuous scene where we watch two young men talk about their lives in blank, grey-walled rooms. And this is probably intentional. I’m sure that writer/director Oscar Wenman-Hyde chose to have the location for this discussion be a completely blank room on purpose, to highlight the starkness of the change that the Younger Brother is facing, and to have the things that they’re talking about be the focus of your attention, rather than getting bored and looking through the background to pick interesting things out of the set dressing.
Mental health issues are incredibly important, and things that need to be acknowledged and spoken about more; in any type of demographic, but particularly for students. Whilst I didn’t attend university, I did work at one for a while, and I lost count of the number of stories I’d heard about students having breakdowns, or even taking their lives because of the mental stresses they go through. So on paper I was very much on board with a film that would discuss some of these issues.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure exactly what Cycles was trying to achieve. The Younger Brother brings up several different things that are bothering him. He feels that he has no say in his life anymore because of family pressure, he feels that the Older Brother has more of his life figured out, he questions if he really knows what he wants to do. These are some big topics, but the Younger Brother never really seems to get any kind of resolution to his issues, as the Older Brother seems to spend much of the film telling him off or pitying him. The two of them shift so often that one moment they can be shouting at each other, laughing and caring the next, and then storming out of the room in a rage after that.
I often felt a little lost trying to keep up with the constantly shifting discussion, and some of the writing didn’t help either. These are characters that are supposed to be 18 and 23, yet they never really sounded their ages. I don’t know the ages of the writers for the film, but I suspect that they’re older, or at least coming across as older due to having time to think about the words being written rather than being in the moment. The langue didn’t always feel natural, and it seemed like someone trying to write a clever sounding script rather than a believable one.
This also helped to highlight some of the weakness in the acting, as the two actors often seemed like they were reciting lines rather than living in the moment. Henry Wilson and Henry Fisk don’t seem like bad actors by any stretch, and there are moments in the film where they come across as very suited for the roles; but there are more than a few times where they felt forced, as if they were trying too hard.
My final criticism of the film is also something of a spoiler, but it’s heavily hinted at that the Younger Brother is gay, and that him still being closeted about that part of himself is causing him difficulties. The Older Brother is played as knowing his sibling is queer, but rather than being sympathetic about it it feels like he’s trying to force his brother to out himself at multiple points during the film. There are conversations where the Older Brother is practically yelling at the younger to admit who he is to himself, and it honestly felt really crass and borderline abusive.
READ MORE: Deadly Games (1982) – Blu-ray Review
Cycles felt like it was trying to impress, that it wanted to take the idea of a simple conversation being the focus of a short film and wanted to show off the quality of writing and acting without any additional flourish. Unfortunately, the film feels weak on both of these counts, and as such I struggled to find much to like about this movie. If you’re going through short, low budget movies trying to find promising new talent to keep an eye on it might be worth the rental cost, but be aware that you may be left feeling disappointed.
Cycles is out on Amazon Prime Video on 28th February.